I have been a fan of Rurouni Kenshin for more than a decade. My Rurouni Kenshin VHS tapes and my high school friends’ old letters with Kenshin’s drawings on it can attest to that. I never would’ve expected that the time would come: that a live-action movie would be produced and my all-time favorite samurai would come to life.
As expected, the live-action adaptation somehow takes a different course from the original source. Hence,the first one to emerge onscreen was Saito Hajime, a character who should have been introduced in the second season. In the middle of the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, he relentlessly called out Hitokiri Battousai’s name (I thought to challenge him for a one-on-one battle) but only to remind him that they are warriors who live and die by the sword.
With the dramatic flair of his bloody sword and his famous cross-shaped scar, the blue-ish shade of introductory flashback showed how Himura Kenshin, the lead assassin of the Ishin shishi, paved way for the establishment of a peaceful Meiji era. Overlayed with a haunting opening musical score, the cinematography exquisitely captured the zeitgeist of the early Meiji Restoration period and a newly reformed Himura Kenshin decided to forgo his hitokiri side and started living as an all smilin’ dango-lovin’,sakabatou carryin’ rurouni.
I was a bit apprehensive at the thought of casting anyone for the lead role. It would be extremely difficult to find an actor as charismatic and as badass as Himura Kenshin. Director Keishi Otomo struck gold when he chose Sato Takeru. Even though he started out as a Kamen Rider, I got to know him a couple of years later as Miura Haruma’s bff after watching Bloody Monday and their HT New York/Borneo travel documentaries. But Sato Takeru gave me the biggest surprise in my Japanese fangirl lifetime for blowin’ me away with his convincing performance in both his Battousai and Wanderer moments. I fell in love in an instant. Effortlessly androgynous,he then worked on his stance and swordfighting skills to completely transform into Kenshin.
19-year-old Emi Takei is too pretty,too prim and proper as Kaoru. She is a bit different from the strong yet short-tempered doujo teacher that I know. I’d probably consider her as the weakest in terms of acting skills since all the other main characters seemed to have outshone her. However, Takei has the aura of an actress that you just can’t hate no matter what she does; and she delivered in the scene that requires some acting chops- that time when she broke Jin’e’s spell.
Aoki Munetaka plays Sagara Sanosuke. I was initially disappointed since he looks a bit too old for a character who’s supposed to be 19 years old. Besides, Sano is lean, tall and good looking in the anime but you know what they say about not judging a book by its cover. Aoki certainly brought a whole new level of energy in this otherwise semi-dark approach on Rurouni Kenshin.
Talented actress Aoi Yu plays Takani Megumi. It’s a shame that Kaoru looks prettier than Megumi when it’s supposed to be other way around. But Aoi is the better actress and considering the movie is set in old Japan, her vixen-like features are superior compared to Emi’s modern kawaii-ness.
Something’s lacking in Myojin Yahiko. It’s fun to see him tease Kaoru the way his character normally does but I wish he was given a braver face apt for a kid of samurai descent. Manga readers know this boy is meant to inherit great things in the future,therefore his character should’ve been built up a little more. Like in that doujo fight scene, he should’ve had at least an “I’m a Kasshin student and I’m going to protect this doujo!” chivalrous moment before he gets tossed aside and Kenshin takes over the fight.
Long time rival and interesting “frenemy” Yosuke Eguchi played Saito Hajime like a boss,but the film focused more on his Fujita Goro alter ego. Sure it was shown that he and Kenshin go way back but there was a lack of emphasis on how they have come from opposing factions yet have mutual respect on each other’s skills and tenet.
If I nitpick as fan, this live-action adaptation is quite a mess considering the cheesy promotional posters, the order of the characters’ appearances in the film, Oniwabanshu’s non-existence, the inclusion of some Jinchuu arc looking villains and the usage of the ending that’s supposed to be for the entire Kyoto arc. But this one’s a well-thought-out, wonderfully written,and perfectly threaded mess!
We were given a glimpse of Kenshin’s backstory with Masataka Kubota as Kiyosato Akira. It may have been a short appearance but we all know that this valiant young bodyguard was the one who left the lasting first cut of Kenshin’s famous X-shaped scar.
The main characters were properly introduced in not just one but two interweaving story arcs featuring two very different antagonists: one driven by money and the other by desire for carnage.
The amazing actor Teruyuki Kagawa plays Takeda Kanryu- the comical cartoonish baddie complete with his own background music. Then there’s Gambit-inspired Udo Jin’e, a fusion of two characters: Kurogasa, the bloodthirsty hitokiri with the ability to use hypnosis and Hiruma Gohei ,the Kamiya Kasshin drop out who posed as Battousai to smear the doujo’s image.
I’m surprised that Ayano Gou appeared as Gein when this character is from the Jinchuu arc. He should have just played Hanya to somehow introduce the Oniwabanshu. The guy whom Sano had a one-on-one with in that idiot vs.idiot funny kitchen brawl looks like one of the six comrades from the Jinchuu arc as well.
One wouldn’t go into a samurai film without high level of expectations for action scenes. I appreciate the cast’s dedication in doing their own stunts and the production’s decision to make use of very little CG. They focused more on subtle use of wirework making the action sequences look fresher and more realistic, props to famous action choreographer, Kenji Tanikagi .The final battle between Kenshin and Jin-e was really “breathtaking”. pun intended.
The most difficult part in adapting a famous manga into a live-action movie is not the recreation of scenes but of understanding the central theme. In this modern age of filmmaking where weapons, CGIs, and A-list actors make action movies sell, it is still more essential to retain the heart of the story. And that’s exactly what this film succeeded in. Having directed the historical drama Ryomaden (where he discovered Sato Takeru’s legendary samurai potential), Keishi Otomo certainly knew what he was doing.
I was thoroughly impressed with the film and I must say the same for the rest of the audience in the theater today. There was applause from the crowd and I had goosebumps for a good few minutes after Himura Kenshin uttered the word, “Tadaima”.
Rurouni Kenshin anime has probably one of the best soundtracks and the live-action certainly didn’t fall short in the OST department as One Ok Rock’s The Beginning started playing as the end credits roll.