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Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Taika Hen

Japan 2014

Action, Fantasy

Keishi Ohtomo

Takeru Sato
Emi Takei
Tatsuya Fujiwara
Yosuke Eguchi
Munetaka Aoki
Kaito Oyagi
Tao Tsuchiya
Ryunosuke Kamiki
Yusuke Iseya
Min Tanaka
Maryjun Takahashi
Ryosuke Miura
Yu Aoi

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Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Story: Himura Kenshin (Takeru Sato) has settled down at the school of Kendo teacher Kaoru (Emi Takei), spending his time with his friends Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki) and Yahiko (Kaito Oyagi). However, one day the government asks him for help. Shishio Makoto (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who bears the title "Manslayer" after Kenshin in the past, has been betrayed and burned up by the government he worked for. But he survived and his only goal is to bring down the government and re-establish the old ruling of the shogunate and the samurai. After some soul-searching Kenshin sees no other option, but to face Shishio. He leaves Kaoru and his new life behind and once again wanders his old path as a wanderer. Yet he still doesn't want to kill. But it seems impossible for him to regain his former power facing this kind of self-imposed restriction. Fortunately, he gets a helping hand from the Oniwaban, a former group of ninja guardians, Misao (Tao Tsuchiya) and Hajime Saito (Yosuke Eguchi). Nevertheless, apart from Makoto he also has some powerful enemies in the shape of Shishio's right hand man Soujiro (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and the fighter Aoshi (Yusuke Iseya) who seeks revenge on Kenshin.

Review: Many years have gone by since I saw the anime adaptation of the manga and after getting really pumped up by the great "Azumi" I hoped and feared at the same time someone could one day try to bring a live action adaptation of Kenshin onto the big screen. The first part "Rurouni Kenshin" actually was an everything but bad attempt, but still, something was lacking. What exactly? Well, everything you get to see in this second installment! The source material for the second and third part is the Kyoto arc of the original story, centering around Shishio Makoto, and that's the way it should have been from the very beginning. That is because the plot is the most worthwhile here and so it seems that the first installment was merely an introduction. Still, one big downside of the second part you have to deal with is that it is inevitably just working towards a grand finale in the last chapter of the trilogy.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno - Film Screenshot 11

First, some things that don't necessarily are that great. There are a few moments when the pacing drops and there really is no need for that. They may be rather scarce, but considering a running time of 140 minutes there could have been cut out some of that material. Moreover, the reunion with several characters seems slightly hyped up. Granted, Sanosuke is simply an explosive guy, but still... Additionally, Aoshi has been implemented into the story under unfortunate circumstances. Actually, he shouldn't be here at all and accordingly he seems everything but convincing and even somewhat out of place. On the other hand the Oniwaban have been linked to the Kyoto plot quite well. So it remains to be seen whether Aoshi serves some purpose in the third chapter or not. Apart from all that, the finale may seem a bit anticlimatic for some people. But seriously, there never was a doubt that the movie needed to head for a cliffhanger during the last few minutes and a 15 minute showdown is more than sufficient.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno - Film Screenshot 12

Which brings us right to the fights. They look better, faster, more inventive and stick closer to the original! Thankfully there is still no "Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu-tsuisen" shout to be heard while Kenshin strikes down his enemies. Yet, every character has his/her own distinctive fighting style, even the supporting characters (especially Misao or Soujiro). That is a lot of fun to watch and also fan service at its best. Of course the highlight is when Kenshin draws his sword for the first time and fights his way through 50 villains without breaking a sweat or boring us with the same moves, and this with the sort of quickness that will make your jaw drop. For this actor Takeru Sato as well as director Keishi Ohtomo, who inevitably had to play some scenes faster, but never makes us realize that, deserve a big thumbs up. That's the way Kenshin should look like!

Takeru Sato doesn't just cut a fine figure in the fighting sequences but also stands out with simply the perfect body language and acting. He really embodies Kenshin and there is never a doubt about that. His romantic story with Kaoru stays in the background, because there are too much more important things going on in the movie. Kenshin can't get rid of his past and his vow not to kill anymore and yet protect the country is eating away at him since it is somehow paralyzing him. His inner struggle is brought to screen quite well, but the story and characters inevitably are more compressed than in the source material, which is no problem for those familiar with the anime/manga, as they can easily fill out the gaps, but those new to the story might at least feel a bit overwhelmed by the historical background information and the numerous names thrown at you. Also, the last face in the movie will make sense only to those familiar with the source material, making you look forward to the third installment with high anticipation.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno - Film Screenshot 13

The story of Kenshin revolves around a time when there are no warriors since they are simply not needed anymore. But when peace is in jeopardy and needs to be protected, it turns out that even the owners of an inn have once been deadly ninjas. The Meiji period, a time of big upheavals, is conveyed very well and almost all of the characters are well drawn (Aoshi being an exception), even though they naturally remain rough sketches compared to the original series. Even Tatsuya Fujiwara ("Death Note") convinces as a villain with a motive for his actions, only his sword skills need yet to be proven. The pictures are fantastically captured, the sets are at times surprisingly lavish and along with the soundtrack deliver the sort of epicness the story deserves, also mirrored in some memorable scenes. "Kyoto Inferno" is the prelude of a two-parter and at the same time the middle part of a trilogy. If you also consider that Kenshin still has yet to face Aoshi, the remainder of the Ten Swords, has a rematch with Soujiro and of course needs to confront Shishio Makoto, you have to wonder if "Kyoto Inferno" can actually be worthwhile on its own? The answer is a loud "YES" and for fans of the series a clear "Oro?".

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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