“Rurouni Kenshin” is first part of the trilogy that adapted original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki that was also made as the famous anime-series in 1996. First movie of the trilogy is 134 minutes long and it deals with a few different conflicts along the way. We have conflict of modern and traditional Japan, killing and defending code of sword-fighting and moral & amoral behavior of the characters within the movie. All these conflicts have built black & white plot in which we have Kenshin and his friends on one side and declining social communities on the other. Dark and light conflict is something I’ve seen so many times, I’m expecting it from samurai sword-action movie, but it needs to be well done to keep me interested.
Keishi Ohtomo directed the movie as an action-movie which is in some places conflict of ideals and in some romantic story with fantasy elements. Slapstick moments within the movie helped to ease the tension such a direction brings and there were few moments in which I genuinely started to laugh. Combination of comedy, romance and action was done with great attention to the details and while some elements of the story can be questioned as not explained adequately, combat sequences were done with brilliant choreography of Kenji Tanigaki and in some moments were truly breathtaking. If wanted, this movie can be seen as Eastern-Western conflict of values but if wanted it can be discussed as great combat movie with obvious homage to some earlier made Hong Kong movies (both Tanigaki and Ohtomo worked there).
Plot is consisted of few important elements. In 1868 when the time of the samurai was ending, legendary assassin “Battosai” threw down his sword and took a wow never to kill anyone again. Ten years later, he wandered into town under the name Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sato). Odd thing about him was that he was carrying a backward-bladed sword. He is unaware that in same town Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) develops highly potent variety of opium he plans to smuggle to the West and consequently control Japan through drug trade and influence. His philosophy is that people of the “new age” can be controlled with one of three things: swords, money and pleasure. He looks like he dropped into this movie from some Tarantino flick and that was obvious to me in one scene in which he uses gold machine-gun in the attempt to keep things under control.
Second important part of the plot is Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) and her family’s dojo with its legendary gesture: “Sword is not used for kill but to defend from the enemy.” Kaoru and Kenshin will form an alliance against all who think differently, and they will try to uphold some of the traditional values that seemed lost in the society of the 19th century Japan.
Fantasy element of the Kenshin in not dominant as you could expect if you watched anime or read the original manga. It is here, but it is mostly the web of old Japanese legends about the legendary warriors capable of unnatural things. Things that could be the product of your own fears, and fear is always the inhibitor and the enemy of great achievements.
Downsides of the movie are few moments that were reminding me of “Twilight” in which the intensity of the music and the characters seemed corny and that was pity since the story was more than good for this type of film and the choreography of the fight sequences was great. Also, it is so painfully clear that this movie was made after the J-pop wave and J-pop (ending song) just don’t have bearings in the traditional Japan which values the movie is preaching. That was too much of discrepancy for me when the credits appeared.
In the end, “Rurouni Kenshin” is an exciting film. If you’ve read the original manga or see the anime you’ll enjoy the movie but even if you didn’t (it’s not necessary to follow the movie) and you like Asian cinematography and love good action and fight sequences this movie is highly recommended.
I, for one, plan to watch all parts of the trilogy and I’m excited about it. Rumors are, that the other parts of the trilogy are better than its beginning and that some teen stuff was omitted in the sequels. Hope so, because this could be the beginning of a great journey but I’m still not sure if it would end with disappointment or satisfaction. We’ll see. For first part of the story this is very good, solid start.