1 January 2013 | caseymoviemania
Casey's Movie Mania: RUROUNI KENSHIN (2012)
When I was a teenager, I used to love watching the highly-popular anime series called Samurai X (an international title otherwise known as Rurouni Kenshin in its native Japan) back in the late 1990s. Now, over ten years later, writer-director Keishi Otomo finally brings RUROUNI KENSHIN to life. At first, I was doubtful whether a live-action adaptation from such a popular manga can live up to its high expectation since most like-minded movie like this always ends up as a rip-off. But thankfully, fans of the anime/manga series will be (mostly) satisfied the way this first live-action adaptation of RUROUNI KENSHIN has turned out admirably.
The movie opens briefly on a gritty battlefield in 1869 during the battle of Toba-Fushima, where a young samurai named Hitokiri Battosai (Takeru Sato) almost single-handedly defeated a score of enemies. He walks away from the battlefield as the Empire is finally declared victory and thus a new era has born.
Ten years later, Battosai becomes a wanderer and now calls himself as Himura Kenshin. He vows himself not to kill people anymore and even carries a reverse-edged sword. He arrives in a countryside of Japan and subsequently meets Kamiya Kaoru (Emi Takei), the owner of a fencing school used to run by her late father. After Kenshin manages to save her from getting killed by a fake Battosai named Jin-e (Koji Kikkawa) and also helps her to stop a group of thugs trying to take over her dojo, he moves in with her. Apart from them, Kaoru also has an orphaned boy named Myojin Yahiko (Taketo Tanaka) who happened to be her only student.
Meanwhile, Jin-e is actually a hired ex-samurai who works for a wealthy businessman named Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa). Takeda is also a notorious criminal who runs a huge opium operation. Megumi (Yu Aoi), who is being forced to make opium, manages to escape from his mansion and subsequently seeks shelter at Kaoru's dojo. Things get worse when a number of innocent people around the countryside are suffering from rat poison in the community wells, but luckily Megumi, who used to be a healer, manages to cure them with sufficient medication. She knows that this is the work of Takeda, and prompts her to return to his mansion so she can kills him. However, she fails to do so and ends up being a hostage. To save Megumi, Kenshin and his newfound friend, Sagara Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki), who was a street brawler, make their way to Takeda's mansion and settle the matter once and for all.
Most of the cast are spot-on excellent. Takeru Sato is excellent as the titular character and he certainly looks the part fans have to use to see him in the anime series -- his trademark red-haired and long ponytail, curvaceous lips, wide eyes, his outfit and even the way he runs, jumps and draws his sword. Not only that, fans will also be delighted with Sato's signature delivery, "oro?" as well. As the street brawler Sagara Sanosuke, Munetaka Aoki carries that familiar rough-and-tumble attitude effectively, while Teruyuki Kagawa is gleefully over-the-top as the villainous Kanryu Takeda. The rest of the supporting cast are equally captivating -- ranging from Yu Aoi, Koji Kikkawa and even Taketo Tanaka. The only (slight) disappointment is Emi Takei as Kaoru. Her character is supposed to be a tomboy-ish type, but yet she is too pretty to pull off the part convincingly. Most of the time you'll see her more of a damsel-in-distress than a so-called tough vixen she meant to be.
RUROUNI KENSHIN is particularly noted for its impeccable technical values here. It is clear that Keishi Otomo has poured his heart to make this live-action adaptation as stunning as possible. The art direction and costume design are perfectly detailed, while Takuro Ishizaka's lush cinematography is right on target. The action sequence is also top-notch. The sword-fights choreography is fast and furious, yet it's well-staged with an adequate help of elegant slow-motion. The particularly final 30 minutes is downright entertaining -- Kenshin vs. Gein (Gou Ayano), the masked ex-samurai; Sanosuke vs. Banjin Inui (Genki Sudo) in a brutal fisticuffs; and of course the final sword-fight between Kenshin and Jin-e in a forest. Added to the excitement is Naoki Sato's energetic score which often gives the already well-choreographed action scenes a much-needed kinetic boost.
The movie has its flaw, though. Clocking at over two hours long, the story feels laborious at times, especially in the middle section. At the same time, the movie is a bit overlong as well. But such flaw is forgivable because RUROUNI KENSHIN manages to accomplish a rare feat for being a highly-satisfying, Japanese live-action adaptation I've ever seen so far.