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Rurouni Kenshin - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Rurni Kenshin: Meiji kenkaku roman tan

Japan 2012

Action, Fantasy, Drama

Keishi Ohtomo

Takeru Sato
Emi Takei
Y Aoi
Teruyuki Kagawa
Munetaka Aoki
Ysuke Eguchi
Kji Kikkawa
Taketo Tanaka

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Rurouni Kenshin

Story: Himura Kenshin (Takeru Sato) is a wandering samurai, who was significantly involved in ending a time of war and establishing the peaceful Meiji-era ten years ago. Back then he was one of the most ruthless warriors and even was called "Manslayer", but today he has vowed to never kill again. When he meets Kaoru (Emi Takei) in Kyoto, who is looking for a killer pretending to be a disciple of her fighting school and the infamous Manslayer, events start to go out of control. Kenshin is asked by a former acquaintance and now police squad leader Saito (Ysuke Eguchi) to lend a helping hand in going against drug lord Kanryuu (Teruyuki Kagawa) who wants to flood the country with a new kind of opium thanks to the invention of the physician Megumi (Y Aoi). Kenshin wants to live in peace and declines at first, but at some point he can't just watch people continueing to suffer the terror of Kanryuu anymore. In his fight against the drug lord Kenshin gets unexpected help from the brawler Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki), but his hardest fight he has to face against Jine (Kji Kikkawa), a man from his bloody past.

Review: "Rurouni Kenshin", Nobuhiro Watsuki's great manga leading to a no less fantastic anime, finally gets a live-action movie after several years. Can this film really do justice to the original? As one of the biggest skeptics I can set you at ease: "Rurouni Kenshin" is after all a well-achieved action movie that counts among the best anime/manga adaptations from Japan to date. However, that doesn't make the film perfect. Especially when being a fan of the series you will inevitably find some aspects to criticize. There are a few things that clearly could have been done better, but at a closer look this may just be nit-picking. Because this adaptation has in fact been brought to screen with a keen eye for details and it should be understandable that you can't have everything with a running time of 135 minutes concerning characters and story, which by the way centers around the first story arc of the series.

You have to be especially thankful to the director for giving the story around the wandering samurai who has renounced killing a consistently serious touch. You won't find any unnecessary slapstick moments as there were sometimes in the original series. Which doesn't mean that there aren't any funny scenes every now and then, too. Even Kenshin's much beloved "Oro" has found its way into the movie. Kenshin is first drawn as a likeable guy, but as good as everyone is very soon well aware that he was once the infamous "Manslayer" in the past and thus Kenshin at all times carries his new, kind self around with him as well as his past as a coldblooded killer. During a few scenes there is that spark in the eyes of the warrior to be seen and it sends shivers down the spine of his enemy.

Anyway, there is one important point of criticism. The drama surrounding Kenshin's character in fact could have been fleshed out a bit more in detail. Kenshin has done gruesome things in the past in order to realize his conviction of a better future. He wants to repent now and his reverse-blade sword is supposed to help him with that. The demons he carries around are actually only apparent during one certain flashback in which we are told the story around one of his scars and this flashback is very effective. Therefore, it would have been nice to at least see how he got the other one in another flashback. But maybe that is just whining at the highest level because after all there is also an inner struggle Kenshin has to face when he battles Jine at the end. His new vow to protect life without shedding blood naturally proves to be very hard to stick to.

Takeru Sato. who is mainly known for his roles in drama shows, plays Himura Kenshin and he - I can assure you that much - delivers a very good performance. Be it in the more subtle scenes or during the fights, and he also fits into his role visually after a few minutes of acclimatization. Especially his movements and peculiarities have been transfered into the movie with a loving hand. The same goes for Sanosuke, who shows the necessary physical presence and with his smash-mouth fighting style always makes our fan heart jump for joy. Kaoru is utilized as the damsel in distress by the screenplay one time too many, but apart from the fact that the actress is a bit too beautiful for the role, there isn't anything to criticize about her either. Yahiko is only to be seen in a small supporting role, but he fits well into the film. Hajime Saito is embodied by Ysuke Eguchi ("Goemon"), which was a good choice, yet his "slay all evil immediately" mentality isn't really to be seen - he seems too nice. Teruyuki Kagawa ("Kaiji") seems a bit too much extroverted as the villain, but it was the same in the original, so this can't be called a flaw.

Unfortunately, "Rurouni Kenshin" needs almost half an hour to get some momentum going. But even then there are still scenes that really could have been cut out. Nonetheless, director Keishi Ohtomo ("The Vulture") captures his movie with wonderful pictures to look at and he implemented a lot of details from the series. The costumes and appearances of the individuals are just right and in many respects he sticked close to the original as well. Sanosuke's Zanbatou sword as well as Saito's Gatotsu stance or the tavern lady are only a few of the many small presents for the fans. You have to make concessions concerning the number of characters, though. Of course the movie is almost overloaden with characters as it is, but where the hell is Aoshi? Or the other guys from the Oniwabanshu group? Furthermore, it's not really clear why many fantasy elements have been left out, accordingly there are no supernatural powers to be seen, but Jine's paralyzing gaze is still in the movie. Moreover, the soundtrack isn't convincing right from the start, but later on it manages to serve its purpose surprisingly well.

The last third of the movie is one single showdown. During the fights the biggest strength of the movie becomes apparent as they are really breathtaking and perfectly executed. Kenshin's fighting style has its very own distinctive features as do the ones of the other characters. Kenshin is incredibly fast and also occasionally displays his typical elegant and original acrobatics that we already know from the original. Varied camera angles bestow diversity upon the outstanding and carefully choreographed fights. As a Kenshin fan this surely will make your heart jump with joy. A purged screenplay, more focus on the drama surrounding Kenshin's inner demons and a few less missteps could have earned "Rurouni Kenshin" an even better rating. But maybe all the high expectations just took their toll. Watching it a second time in the future might clear that up. However, at the bottom line "Rurouni Kenshin" is a fantastic manga adaption with breathtaking fights and great characters.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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