I, like most people who enjoy anime, was weary when I heard that they were going to do a live action of Rurouni Kenshin. I have seen what they had to offer already. (That awful Dragonball came to mind… and that damn… Death Note.) Sometimes studios need to leave well enough alone. Because I was weary… I waited until well after the 3 installment to watch all the movies in succession. I have waited until the last one to hit Netflix before I decided to do a post about it. I am going to preface this by saying not one movie let me down. I will get into all of the things that I enjoyed about this 4 part series… but first… a bit about Rurouni Kenshin…. (No, I will not be talking about the creator.)
Rurouni Kenshin, sometimes also known as Samurai X in the TV show, is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The story begins during the 11th year of the Meiji period in Japan (1878) and follows a former assassin from the Bakumatsu, known as Hitokiri Battosai. After his work against the bakufu, Hitokiri Battosai disappears to become Himura Kenshin: a wandering swordsman who protects the people of Japan with a vow never to take another life. (Before watching this… I watched Trigun… and I got strong Vash vibes…) The manga revolves around themes of atonement, peace, and romance. The manga was serialized in Shueisha’s Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine from April 1994 to September 1999. The complete work consists of 28 volumes.
I heard my people on Twitter talking about the movie…. and NO ONE had bad things to say about it. So I had to figure out where I could watch it. To my delight, I found the first three on Amazon Prime Video.Shoutout to Prime Video for having both the Japanese version with subtitles and the English dub version. I decided to buy and not rent the Japanese version. (I figured I had to get faster at reading subtitles so… why not?) I trust my people on Twitter. Good times. So let’s start with the first one. Rurouni Kenshin: Origins was released in 2012… So when I watched it in quarantine… I was 8 years behind. The film was directed by Keishi Ōtomo and it stars Takeru Satoh and Emi Takei.
Rurouni Kenshin Part 1: Origins
Check out the trailer here: (https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2921248793?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1) I noticed that this live-action adaptation covers a mix of the first two story arcs of both the anime and manga. I wasn’t disappointed to see that much of the slapstick humor has been removed from the overall story, making for a more serious tone in the film.
The movie opens with the Imperialist forces celebrating their victory in the Battle of Toba–Fushimi. It was a pretty bloody scene but the scene was captivating. We see the Hitokiri Battōsai walk away from the battlefield, abandoning his sword. But, the Battōsai’s old katana is not left alone. It is claimed by one of the fallen, Udō Jin-e. A decade later, Saitō Hajime and his fellow policemen investigate the murder of an undercover cop supposedly by the hands of the Battōsai. But Saitō is not convinced and suspects someone else… Takeda Kanryū, a wealthy, but cruel businessman. Meanwhile, the former Battōsai (now calling himself Himura Kenshin) arrives in Tokyo. While roaming its streets, he meets Kamiya Kaoru, the owner of her late father’s Kendo school. With her dojo’s name smeared by one bearing the name of Battōsai, she attacks him believing him to be the famed killer, but is proven wrong when Kenshin reveals he only carries a “reverse-blade sword”. The great thing about the first few minutes of the movie… was that can remember all these instances happening in the anime. I was super stoked about that.
Takani Megumi, a woman forced to make opium for Takeda Kanryū, escapes and turns to the police for a safe haven after witnessing the deaths of the other opium makers. However, Udō Jin-e, under the service of Kanryū, hunts her down, slaying everyone in the police station. (I had almost forgotten from the anime that she made opium…) But things really hits the fan when Kaoru crosses paths with Jin-e… There was no way she had a chance… (Because I have seen the show… I wasn’t to worried about her… but it is still captivating… I could feel her determination and fear. I was still on the edge on the of my seat.) She is injured in the fight, but Kenshin appears out of nowhere and saves her. (Okay… I will let you in on a secret… I am a lover of the whole damsel in distress thing. Although… I would never characterize Kaoru as a damsel.) Jin-e immediately realizes Kenshin’s hidden identity as the true Battōsai, before a swarm of policemen rush onto the scene, giving Kenshin and Kaoru a chance to flee. Kaoru leads Kenshin to her dojo where they will be safe. Later, a group of thugs under Takeda Kanryū attempt to take over the dojo. Kenshin beats down the entire gang without killing a single one before the police arrive.
I won’t give away the whole movie… Just know that I give the casting director an A++. The acting was superb and the sword fighting was spectacular. I immediately recognized that there was no reason to be apprehensive about this film as Japanese cinema has a grand tradition of samurai movies. Maybe I was sucked in from the get go because I enjoy a good period piece. I was also drawn to the story because I wanted to know how they were going to play out Kenshin’s fight for what’s right without spilling any blood.
Another thing that I loved was the cinematography… There is breathtaking locations and shots that I had to add to my destination list. There is contrasting intense combat scenes and reflective drama. The action scenes have been choreographed to a T. They are epic and engaging which is always a plus and usually a hit at the box office. Right from the start, I knew that the action scenes set them apart from other live actions that I have seen. The fights use both changing choreography and camera techniques to keep the action consistently fresh and interesting. The added bonus is there is not a bunch of CGI. My friend and I discussed that there is a slight amount of wire work… but nothing that looks too crazy. It adds a bit to the action without looking fake.
The film became Japan’s eleventh highest-grossing film of 2012, earning ¥3 billion at the Japanese box office that year. It wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2016… and only in 27 theaters… (It is always NYC, LA…) I would have liked to see this on the big screen… but I live in the sticks… oh well.
Rurouni Kenshin Part 2: Kyoto Inferno
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a 2014 Japanese film directed by Keishi Ōtomo. It is the first of two sequels to the 2012 live-action Rurouni Kenshin film, and was followed by The Legend Ends released later the same year. When I figured out that there was going to be more than one movie… I wondered if they could continue being great… or if I was going to be in store for the sophomore slump. I had an inkling that the antagonist was going to be Shishio (I mean… that is really the only main antagonist in the anime… so if they had gotten this wrong…) I did feel as though Shishio was a character that could so easily be done wrong. But because I bought the movie… I had to jump in with both feet.
In Settsu Mine, Saitō Hajime leads the Japanese police in tracking Shishio Makoto. Shishio being the successor of the Hitokiri (人斬り), or assassin after Kenshin. After working for Ishin Shishi, the new Meiji government tried killing Shishio by dousing him in oil and burning him alive. However, Shishio manages to survive and recruits an army led by the Juppongatana to get his revenge and take down Japan. Shishio’s men massacre through the police, telling Saitō his plan to conquer Japan. After the events of the first film, Himura Kenshin continues to live in the kendo dojo of Kamiya Kaoru alongside Myōjin Yahiko, Sagara Sanosuke, and Takani Megumi. He is called by a government official, Ōkubo Toshimichi, to track down Shishio, who is terrorizing Kyoto and its surroundings. Though he declines the request at first, he relents when the official is murdered by Seta Sōjirō, Shishio’s underling. Check out the trailer here: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3742411801?ref_=tt_pv_vi_aiv_1
Another chapter in this period piece… and this one was just as great… it follows that manga awesomely. The sequel improves greatly on first film by mixing action and the emotional turmoil that swirls around all of the characters in Kenshin’s extended adopted family. Here is where we see a turning point in Kenshin and Kaoru’s relationship… The on-screen action is exhilarating and fun… and is a continuation of the first film. Kyoto Inferno sets its own bar even higher. Kenshin’s almost-superhuman speed and swordsmanship are laid out in full glory, while still being believable enough to be “realistic”. Even though I have touched on this before… the cast deserves high praise… Takeru Satoh transformation into Kenshin is masterful to watch… so much so that I had almost forgotten I was watching a movie… It doesn’t boast a very complex story – it’s a straight forward action narrative, but the integration of the narrative into the rich historical setting makes the story more than worthwhile. Of course… I wanted to see how the movie matched up to the anime…. and youtube is the place to visit for that…. check out this scene: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt4AzCtmCD0)
I will say the village scene is my favorite… Good times. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilZZ2TM66Z8) I was not disappointed in Shishio either… They didn’t shy any from his backstory… nor his ruthlessness. The costuming continued to be better than I imagined. But I can only give this movie an A… no ++ this time because of the feels I had at the end of the movie… Not cool where they leave you at… but I still had another movie….
At the box office the movie earned a total of $52.9 million internationally. The film also held the top spot at the box office in Japan during its first week.It was the third highest-grossing film of 2014 at the Japanese box office with ¥5.22 billion.
Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends
So I had to jump right into the third movie… because… I had to know where that ending from the second movie was headed… Was it 2 am….? Did I have to be at work the next day? Sure… but that is irrelevant. Take a look at the trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2938026009?playlistId=tt3029556&ref_=tt_ov_vi
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends was released in Japan in 2014…. so again… SUPER behind… but nothing like catching up in a week. I would like to point out… I usually don’t care for movies where actors are replaced. I know. I know…. It is sad. The new person could be spectacular but honestly…. It leaves me jarred and not caring about the story. So thank goodness… all the actors/actresses remained the same. Already starting off with a plus in the book.
We start off with a young Kenshin… In a flashback, Hiko Seijūrō finds young Shinta digging graves for bandits and slavers killed in battle. Shinta explains that all people are only bodies after death. Hiko decides to take Shinta as his student and names him “Kenshin”. Kenshin wakes up at Master Hiko’s home. He has been unconscious for three days. Kenshin asks to learn the final Hiten Mitsurugi technique, “Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki“, in order to defeat Shishio Makoto and prevent his onslaught. Hiko agrees, and the two engage in a duel to start his training. I remember when I was watching this meeting in the anime… and it was the first time I saw Kenshin getting beat… I was blown away. This was no exception.
Shishio is still trying to take over Japan… Causing havoc all over the country. But I felt as though… these people tried to kill him…and then didn’t even do it right… the fact that he wants revenge seems like it makes perfect sense.
So this film takes a bit of a departure from the anime… and I was along for the ride…. Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends presents the viewer with a very common Shonen narrative structure. The hero, after having failed to defeat the villain, must be become stronger as to be able to destroy that same villain. Nothing wrong here… I expected and I love Shonen… (I paid no mind to those that wrote they hated it. I was here for it and they delivered.
Because this movie focuses on the final battle between Shishio and Kenshin, there is no real historical setting to the piece. The historical setting is underlined solely by the costumes which continue to be great. The entire final third of the movie is one long stretched action sequence. (You won’t catch me complaining at all.) What starts as several one-on-one battles, ultimately ends in an exhilarating four-on-one battle with Shishio.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
I was worried that with the pandemic… we were never going to get this final movie… Did it matter that I had no clue what the final installment would be about? NO! Covid ruins everything… Lol.. but I found something on Twitter that showed the final movie would be released on Netflix… and there was no one more ready than me. It is based on the final arc of the manga series, but its story differs from the original. Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAA1ZDSCWjI&t=17s
The leader of the Shanghai mafia, Yukishiro Enishi, arrives in Tokyo to search for the former government assassin Himura Kenshin. After briefly fighting the police force at the train station, he allows police officer Saito Hajime to arrest him, revealing in the process he was the man responsible to give weaponry for the late Shishio Makoto. Enishi was later released due to the Shanghai treaty. He and his allies, who all have a grudge with Kenshin, begin their assault on Tokyo.
For this film, we get a bit more about Kenshin’s past life… We as well as Kaoru learn that he was once married… and that is wife was killed. (Everyone else in the movie openly joke about her wanting to marry Kenshin. Jerks… And even though he appears oblivious… that is never the case.) Enishi Yukishiro bears a major grudge against Kenshin, for causing the death of his sister Tomoe (Kasumi Arimura), who was married to Kenshin… We learn through flashbacks of their history together, including how Kenshin got the crossed scars on his cheek. Part 4 sees a darker side to Kenshin. Despite his easy-going appearance, he was a killer and has caused great suffering in the past. Enishi’s desire for revenge is understandable and we are left with difficult questions about both of them. (I found myself wondering if Kenshin should make out of this one.)
The cast continue to deliver… and the costume and set piece continue to amaze me. I was all for it… and by the 4th movie… I really expected a lackluster go at it. The quality was on pace since the first movie. The action sequences remain bad ass… this was everything I wanted in a live action adaptation of an anime.
So that is all for now… every chance I get… I talk about this live action adaptation. It is hard to convince people to watch it… because we have all been hurt by live action before… but this is well worth the watch… I was coming home after work every day for almost a week to tackle a movie. If you have seen them… let me know your thoughts below. Apparently there is also a prequel out… called Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning. I am not seeing it anywhere to watch just yet… but when I get eyes on it… I will probably post about it. Looks like it was released in April 2021… so it should be soon.
UPDATE: So I am back to add to this post because since I put this out about a month ago…. Netflix added Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning. Younger Kenshin makes for a great story. We get to see younger him standing up for what he believes in and taking up his sword for a future of peaceful times. Compared to the other 4 movies… this movie is definitely the bloodiest. (But this is before Kenshin takes up his oath to not kill…. in his days as Battosai the manslayer.)
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is a 2021 Japanese live-action film directed by Keishi Ōtomo. It is the fifth and final installment in the Rurouni Kenshin film series. The narrative of the film approximates the plot of the manga’s “Recollections / Reminiscence” arc, earlier adapted into the 1999 OVA Trust & Betrayal. The film is a prequel to the others and depicts how Himura Kenshin received his cross-shaped scar. It focuses on Kenshin’s past as the assassin Hitokiri Battōsai during the final years of the Bakumatsu and also explores his relationship with a woman named Yukishiro Tomoe.
The fifth installments does something different than the first films… it shows an aspect of drama, and a much darker, introspective tale of the main character Himura Kenshin. The Beginning examines a time before the Meiji restoration when the young Himura volunteers to fight. Due to his ability to handle a sword he is ordered to become an assassin. The job profoundly jades Himura… you get the sense that he doesn’t want to kill but will do so because he sees it as the only way to move forward. However, the task of being an assassin has left him with no clue how to interact or relate to people besides killing.
The action scenes in this movie are badder and bloodier than the last few movies… but no less choreographed. This being the “final..”, I was worried that I would be underwhelmed… but rest assured that nothing of the sort happened. But this was a somber movie… there was no comic relief (Sanosuke… or Yahiko)… Kenshin carries the weight of doing what he thinks is right for the greater good and it can be hard to watch. The film opens with a dramatic and exciting fight sequence, where Kenshin takes down an entire army of fighters. On a rampage, we see him kill anyone and anything, even when they beg for mercy in front of him. This is where Kenshin gets his first slash on his cheek, the first part of his classic X-shape scar. We are taken through Kenshin’s backstory… He has a chip on his shoulder… he isn’t even close to his fellow companions… often sitting alone… and not engaging others. We are then introduced to Tomoe, who is very similar. She has a gentle presence but there is something about her that didn’t sit right with me. We watch their love develop through death and destruction. Their storyline is a slow-burn… and you guys know by now how much I love a slow burn. (Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0vN_2MRR50)
It is very rare that a live action movie based on an anime is any good… much less a 5 movie franchise. But these were a delight to watch… and I strive to get more people to watch them…