This film Rurouni Kenshin – Kyoto Inferno is the first of a two sequel movie released in 2014. It is a continuation from the first live action of Rurouni Kenshin film screened in 2012. The 2012 film brought an unparalleled overwhelming action with an emotional drama and it has been spread throughout the world with enthusiasm. For those who are unfamiliar with this franchise, it is actually the first live action adaption of the Japanese comic/manga Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji kenkaku Romantan, directly translated as Rurouni Kenshin: Meiji Swordsman Romantic Story (published by Weekly Shonen Jump from 1994). It is the best-selling comic written by Nobuhiro Watsuki that has sold more than 58 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages.
It was a very big challenge for the filmmakers to translate the manga into live-action format as the original comic had always been thought as the most difficult comic to be adapted to a live-action film. But it turned out that the 2012 Rurouni Kenshin’s box office in Japan surpassed more than 3 billion yen and the film has been invited to Busan International Film Festival, Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, and Fantasia International Film Festival among others. Besides the festival circuit, the film made a historic record that the film marked the highest Box Office of Japanese films ever released in Philippines. Hence, you can say that expectations are high for the 2014 film.
This time, the film is set based on the ‘Kyoto Arc’ storyline from the manga, the most-loved and acclaimed story that is the climax of the comic series. The role of Kenshin Himura as the main protagonist is once again played by Takeru Satoh (first starring role as Kamen Rider Den-O in 2007) from the 2012 film. He is known as a legendary swordsman during the Shogunate era and was once feared as ‘Battosai the Killer’. After the Shogunate fell in the 19th century, and the arrival of a ‘new age’, the Meiji era; Kenshin became a wanderer, roaming the lands seeking to be of service to those in need. Kenshin vowed never to kill again after the fall of the Shogunate, which is why he now wields a special samurai sword with a ‘back blade’, whose cutting edge is on the back of the sword. This practically renders him the inability to kill.
This film starts out by introducing the key villain, Makoto Shishio, Kenshin’s crazed successor and now enemy who plans to overthrow the new government of Japan and rule the lands himself. Shishio is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara whose previous film includes Death Note (another manga adaptation). Shishio has assembled his private army of mercenaries from Kyoto’s underworld and is assisted by the ‘Ten Swords’ squad, an elite fighting group with immense individual skills. However, only several members of the ‘Ten Swords’ were given proper introduction and screen time. Maybe the rest will get their respective exposure in the next sequel or there were just insufficient time to slot all the characters in. We don’t know, but let’s see how it develops in the coming sequel.
Shishio’s ambition to rule Japan is such a big threat to the new government that a major ensemble of fighters is required to retaliate against this rebellion. Kenshin’s immediate troupe consists of Kaoru Kamiya, a young fencing instructor whose residence Kenshin dwells in, Sanosuke Sagara, an impulsive, straight-forward and hot-tempered street brawler, Megumi Takani, a physician, and Yahiko Myojin, a young trainee at Kaoru’s dojo.
Each of the characters were designed to stay true to their comic counterpart and it does feel natural seeing these characters in live action form. For example, Kenshin in this film appears friendly, with a gentle composure which appears almost ‘girly’. But when engaged in battle, he transforms into a vicious, swift, and highly skilled fighter that doesn’t leave any room for the enemies to attack; just as portrayed in the comics.
The fight scenes and choreographies are top notch as the speed and viciousness of each attack are successfully showcased clearly to the audience. The characters make the sword-fighting scenes really convincing with their fluid and natural movements. The action/choreography director and the actors deserve a commendation for successfully adapting comical fighting scenes into live action without making them look silly or unreal.
The scenery and location selection is another reason this film manages to encapsulate the ‘true’ Rurouni Kenshin experience from the comics. Practically every outdoor scene is mesmerizing, from villages to the cities of early Tokyo and Kyoto to the beautiful natural sceneries. It was no walk in the park as the production crew travelled 20,000km around Japan to over 30 locations in 10 prefectures (a journey covering almost 2/3 of Japan) securing the best possible locations to highlight the distinctiveness of each scene. The entire cast blend well with the surroundings for each scene resulting in a captivating experience.
Although the film fares very well in terms of fight choreography, scenery, and character portrayal (over 100 costumes for Kenshin alone), the film does have some flaws. Fighting scenes in Japanese comics generally tend to have lots of dialogue slotted between them. Typically, the characters would shout out the name of the skill they are about to perform or just random babbling. Although, there are no screams of ‘High Heaven Sword Style!’, every fight scene were extended due to lengthy conversations. The overall dialogue seemed long and sometimes redundant. You know the scenes are of no value when the audience gets restless and whispers and movements are felt in the cinema.
Overall, Rurouni Kenshin – Kyoto Inferno is a great comic adaptation into live action as it successfully captures the spirit of the Japanese comic. Not a fan of the Rurouni Kenshin/Samurai X comics? No worries, those who have not read the original comics will also enjoy this film. The unique personality of each character in the early Meiji era, coupled with the fascinating samurai fight scenes and beautiful Japanese sceneries that bring life to the film, make this a highly recommended Japanese film to watch.
By Victor Lim