Rurouni Kenshin‘s anime Kyoto arc kicked things off with one of the most epic swordfights I’ve ever seen. Kenshin vs. Saito.
I had goosebumps when Kenshin literally let his hair down and put on his glaring Battousai eyes. A part of me wants to see this scene be brought to life in the live-action movie but a part of me is thankful that they left this duel alone.
What shouldn’t have been left alone is Kenshin’s heart-tugging departure. Though it’s not in the manga, the night with the fireflies is one of those moments that stood out in the anime. In this film, Kenshin and Kaoru bid farewell in broad daylight. Director Keiishi Otomo totally understands the core of the source material and toned down the romance so as not to make the uninitiated viewers misunderstand. (Some already did.) I remember watching an interview in Manila when Takeru was asked about the possibility of a kissing scene with Kaoru in the second part of the movie. The interviewer did not do her homework and assumed that Rurouni Kenshin is a mere historical romance. I cringed and laughed at Takeru’s wide-eyed reaction and inability to reply. Director Otomo had to answer that for him.
The 2012 Rurouni Kenshin movie presented a solid introduction of the main cast: the former killer turned pacifist Himura Kenshin, doujo instructor Kamiya Kaoru, young samurai descendant Myojin Yahiko, street fighter Sagara Sanosuke and infamous doctor Takani Megumi. However, as much as I enjoyed its Kanryuu-Jin’e interwoven storyline, I was totally disappointed about the writing off of Oniwabanshu. Aoshi Shinomori should have appeared before Hajime Saito.
Being familiar with the story has its disadvantages. It was weird for me to see Saito casually say “See you in Kyoto” as if he and Kenshin were buddies; and see Megumi introduce herself to Aoshi as a “passing doctor” as if they’ve just seen each other for the first time.
Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Taika Hen attempts to get away with the omission by creating an almost similar backstory for Aoshi. Problem is, I couldn’t sympathize with him the way I did with manga/anime Aoshi. It’s as if he just came out of nowhere, seeking vengeance on someone who wasn’t even there when his nameless Oniwabanshu comrades were murdered. What does Kenshin have to do with it? Why fight against someone who has already ‘retired’? If his sole purpose is to claim the title of being the ‘most powerful’, he should be going after Shishio instead. Hopefully, talented actor Yusuke Iseya would be able to redeem his character in the next installment.
As for the other Oniwabanshu members, Tsuchiya Tao is perfect as Makimachi Misao and 70-year-old Min Tanaka as Okina is like a kung fu master still kickin’ ass.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Kamiki Ryonosuke play Soujiro Seta. Since the running time won’t be enough to give him a backstory, he has to be able to introduce the character’s depth and hidden sarcasm in his own way. Hence, his decision to not smile as often as the original Soujiro did. He smiles at the right moments and I think it worked. If he stayed true to the consistently grinning Soujiro, newcomers to the RK universe who don’t know his reasons for concealing his past beneath the smile might have the impression that he’s not a formidable foe but just a cruel kid who’s trying to act cute.
While Kamiki is expected to nail his character (long before the role was even offered to him), former Kamen Rider Ryosuke Miura was a revelation. With his trademark broom-like blond hair, squinty eyes, smirk, and Osaka dialect, he totally brought Sawagejo Cho to life. He isn’t exactly a strong Juppongatana member, quite clumsy actually, but because of his arrogant sword tactics and maneuvers, he’s also a Kenshin- worthy opponent. Ryosuke turned his charm on and in that scene where he ‘winked’, I swear I heard some people in the audience said,’aww’. Thanks to him, it seems that Cho’s popularity among fangirls has catapulted to Soujiro level.
Before the new cast members were confirmed, I imagined Kichise Michiko as Komagata Yumi but people who have seen Bloody Monday might look at her and still see Orihara Maya. Young and sultry Maryjun Takahashi breathed a certain freshness into the character. The Filipino – Japanese model turned actress sits by Shishio’s side looking like the beautiful trophy girlfriend but is actually a very devoted Shishio follower who is willing to sacrifice her own life for him.
Full of deep loathing towards the government and driven by his manic obsession of ruling the country, Makoto Shishio is no doubt one of the best villains ever created. He’s so compelling that I agree with the manga writers’ decision to give his character a spin-off. How great would that be for us to be able to see the world though Shishio’s twisted mind. I am also curious as to how this powerful man was able to gather and lead the strong warriors of Juppongatana.
Tatsuya Fujiwara seems to be the go-to bad guy these days but I’m sorry I’m just not a fan so I haven’t seen a lot of projects where he starred in. I’ve only watched Death Note and Monzters and in both films, I thought he was outshone by his more powerful co-stars, Matsuyama Kenichi and Takayuki Yamada respectively.
ACTION AND HUMOR
Kenshin-gumi watching a play about the legendary Battousai is not just a well-made lighthearted scene. At the same time, it serves as the perfect representation of how the people of the new era thinks about Battousai. For them, he is now just a fictional character. A legend.
Adding in a few more laughs were Sanosuke who threw hissy fits everywhere, Megumi and Yahiko’s short but funny appearances and Kenshin’s “oro” that never gets old. These light moments, however, were later overshadowed by Shishio’s seemingly unstoppable plot of destruction. Compared to the first film, there are less bits of humor in this one. The film is darker and bloodier in its astonishing fight scenes that sent chills down my spine.
A PROMISE KEPT
Aside from the typical good vs. bad storyline, Kyoto arc focuses on Kenshin’s Hitokiri vs. Rurouni struggle. Kenshin could make the strongest fighters eat dust in seconds if he were still Battousai but his battles against Saito, Cho, Hiko, Soujiro, Aoshi, and Shishio were all made complicated by his vow to never kill again.
Before drawing out the Sakabato Shinuchi, (since he didn’t know then that Shakku’s last creation was a reversed-edge sword), his emotional conflict and hesitations during his face-off with Cho were implied. Sato Takeru delivered in the nuances that are necessary to make that scene but I just wished he had some voice-overs so we could take a little peek at what’s going on in Kenshin’s mind and somehow share the burden of his constant battle against his inner demons.
Kaoru reiterated the importance of Kenshin’s vow. Somehow they have developed a mutual understanding on the ideal that a sword is not used to slay but to protect. What Kenshin did nearing the end of the movie was regarded as a stupid love-suicide by Shishio but it is clear that, even at the cost of his own life, Kenshin would not hesitate to jump into deadly currents to save Kaoru for she has become a representation of everything he didn’t want to lose:his friend,his loved one,his home,his principle,his sanity,his future.. And just as Sato Takeru said so himself in interviews, this isn’t just about him alone anymore. The story is more about having something/someone to protect.
Sato Takeru is back in this iconic role and I am just amazed at how much he has grown as an actor. I saw him in person during the Red Carpet Procession and the aura he gives off is not just that of Takeru’s but of Kenshin’s as well. It’s as if Kenshin has truly become a part of him and vice versa. Same vibes when I watched the cast’s promotion in VS Arashi, just 8 minutes in and Takeru let out Kenshin’s oro face and it’s the cutest thing ever.
More than the adorable Oro moments, the choreography for the fight scenes in this sequel are more intricate, dangerous and stirring. I couldn’t think of a better actor who could move like Kenshin the way Takeru does. Skeptics who have been bashing him can shut up now.
Sato Takeru is now officially a household name. If it weren’t for him, there wouldn’t be a real life Himura Kenshin in a brilliant live-action movie that’s worth constantly raving about.
Team Otomo has done it again. Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Taika Hen opened with fiery extravagance and ended with a scenic cliffhanger. Despite the deviations from its source, this is another near-perfect adaptation as the tweaks on the original storyline have been condensed and interconnected comprehensively. And just like The Beginning, our ears in for a treat as One Ok Rock’s Mighty Long Fall started playing.
I’m saving my thoughts on Fukuyama Masaharu for the release of the second part. His appearance as the great Hiko Seijuro XIII and Kenshin’s invincible Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki are the two things that I’m most excited about in Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsuno Saigo Hen.