I feel like my posts are all becoming movie reviews, and I am sorry for that but I’m excited at the same time. Haha :))
When I was a kid, I used to watch this anime called Rurouni Kenshin aka Samurai X every afternoon weekdays after school on this one local station where I spent in front of the television, watching a red-haired samurai expertly wield his “sakabato” (reverse-blade sword) to protect lives. Rurouni Kenshin played a big part in my childhood. This anime holds a special place in my heart because it made me embrace my inner “anime-nerd.” Now, number of years later, Warner Bros decided that anime was cool and decided to turn to Rurouni Kenshin into a live action film.
Samurai X is one of my favorite anime and at first I scoffed at the notion of adapting it into a live action movie. I was keeping my expectations as low as possible as no thanks to the disaster anime-turned-movie Dragonball Z and Street fighter. Because usually most attempts to turn anime or games to live action movies often goes down so you can understand my skepticism. But as the reviews began pouring in, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Actually, it’s quite the opposite and I haven’t read a poor review of the movie since its release in Asia on August 25th. The reviews hail it as a “near perfect adaptation“.
The movie was a swell two hour treat and for all the Kenshin fans out there, it’s no disappointment…I was literally blown over by the execution of it. Even the trailer had given solid proof that both direction and fight scenes were going to be a rocker and it pulled an awesome easily over all. The movie was awesome!
Warning! Some minor spoilers of the movie are in this review.
The film began during the war between the eras of violent and peaceful Japan. Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) is a wanderer swordsman who carries a dark secret from his past. He was formerly known as the assassin Hitokiri Battosai, a deadly samurai who fought in the war and contributed to its victory through the trail of dead people he left behind. But now Himura wanders the countryside of Japan offering protection and aid to those in need as a way to redeem himself of the murders he committed, carrying a reverse-bladed sword unable to kill. But old enemies and ghosts of the past kept haunting him. Ten years after, he ended up being in Tokyo, where Takeda Kanryuu (Teryuki Kagawa) was running a lucrative underground opium business. Kanryuu hired famed doctor Takani Megumi (Yu Aoi) to create a potent variant of opium and had been making a cash cow out of her ever since – until she escaped from his lair. So Kenshin decides to join forces with Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki), to bring down Kanryu’s gang and their drug empire. Kanryuu’s gang had been responsible for civilian and police killings in the city, and they identified themselves as the “Battousai” to cover their tracks. Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) and Kenshin had a chance encounter when she “mistook” him as the Battousai, and later in the day when he saved her from Kanryuu’s gang member Jin’e.
The film takes merges together with some changes, throwing some of Kenshin’s back story in the mix. Considering the length of the original story it’s certainly a wise decision to not try to fit in too much in one single film, so the result is a film that works both as a standalone but also one that could perfectly serve as the first chapter of a saga.
Since, I wasn’t able to watch the movie in the big screen and just downloaded it from torrent; I had a few problems with the subtitles though. Of course, there’s the fact that it’s hard to focus on the awesome fight scenes when you have to read subtitles. Aside from that, it seems apparent that whoever wrote the subtitles didn’t watch the original anime with the original subs. Kenshin’s “reverse-blade” or “reverse-edged” sword was referred to as a “back-blade”, which was infuriating. In the movie though, everything was translated to English, so Kaoru kept talking about ‘fencing’ and not kendo, which kind of made it sound lame. Aside from that though, everything else is authentic.
What made the RK movie so epic was the right choice of almost everything – from casting, to soundtrack, to the careful selection of plot. One thing that surprised me about Kenshin in this movie is that they were able to insert a flashback scene, on the origins of one of his scars. The execution of that scene is fantastic it is the only straight adaptation coming from the manga and anime that they retain for the movie. Though they added some minor elements in that scene to add up the drama and it worked as it gave Kenshin the feeling of guilt after he killed someone.
The casting was also done relatively well, although not perfect. And those go you familiar with the manga will have no problems identifying your favorite character. Takeru Satoh does an excellent job as Kenshin, portraying the two sides of the so-called swordsman both as the gentle wanderer and the cold blooded killer, and he’s surprisingly strong in the fight scenes. After all, Kenshin is not Kenshin without his “de gozaru” and nonsensical “oro”. I even had the urge to hug him, while watching the movie, because he was able to show the character’s tenderness and airhead-like facade that adds to Kenshin’s charm.
Unfortunately the casting for the leading lady, Kaoru Kamiya, was rather disappointing. Takei Emi tries really hard, I will give her that, but her interpretation of Kaoru falls flat. Granted, my memory is still really fuzzy, but I remember Kaoru as a much tougher and livelier character. She was definitely way more spunky! But this Kaoru is just sorta……there. Takei Emi does alright in the first half of the movie acting-wise, but she does not leave her mark as the leading lady. I didn’t like, though, that she wasn’t given space to shine in the movie. That was unfortunate. The Kaoru of the anime was feisty as hell and wouldn’t back out of a fight, no matter what Kenshin said. It was different in the movie, but it did help the plot along in a way.
On the other hand, I felt like Megumi Takani, the doctor-extraordinaire and former opium maker played by Yu Aoi, really steals the limelight from Kaoru…probably because Yu Aoi has such a stronger stage presence than Takei Emi does. Honestly I didn’t even remember Megumi’s character (that’s how bad my memory is……) so I went back to the anime for a quick reference. I think this Megumi is too young in comparison to the original Megumi, who looks older & more mature.
If you have watched the anime series, Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki) was a fair, tall and handsome but troublesome guy, who became Kenshin’s best friend. He was boisterous and brawny like the one I expected the character to be. Moreover, he was so damn funny that entertained the audience well. Also, I think the fault in his appearance lies with his movie hair. Not only did he have the iconic costume down pat, he also has that brazen cockiness that we have come to love regarding Sanosuke. Also, he has his Zanbato.
On Yahiko Myoujin’s counterpart, it was also the appearance that got me. Yahiko’s character was a brave but naughty brat, who Kaoru takes into her wing. Tanaka Taketo looked like a well-behaved kid, until he opens his mouth and bickers with Kaoru. His ability to show sibling-like squabbles was of course the ultimate redeeming factor.
Here’s one observation though – Hajime Saito played by Eguchi Yosuke was remarkably good-looking. Too handsome. I am used to the Saito who was often described as insect-like, and that’s what made his character as appealing as a villain and a good guy at the same time. But hey – no big deal! Good-looking Saito was still convincing and crusty, and that’s what mattered. Saito doesn’t get much airtime in the movie except for three scenes, but he did make himself very memorable.
Moving past the main cast were the villains, who were Udo Jin-e (Kikkawa Kouji) and Takeda Kanryu (Kagawa Teruyuki) for the movie. Jin-e Udo is this psychotic former hitokiri who’s become a cold-blooded killer in the more peaceful era. In the movie, he takes on several roles, just to make him the main antagonist. I really love the man who played Jin-e. He plays the role so well. When he’s in the limelight, you can just see the psychopathic killing machine in his eyes, the lust for blood. It was awesome–his performance really made my skin crawl. And oh my gawd that fight scene between him and Kenshin–wow….just, wow. But while Jin-e was an exciting villain, Kanryuu Takeda totally took my attention. We can saw how he really obsessed with power and money. His face really annoying and make people want to hate him and kill him so much.
The fighting scenes are downright exciting to watch without being too unrealistic. The director has really done a good job here as he has given fans of the anime something similar to the action they are used to while keeping in mind that this is a real life action film and therefore there are certain things that just can’t be done in real life. Takeru Satoh plays Himura Kenshin right down from his physical appearances and sword play abilities to his mannerism that can switch from downright, clueless and sweet to just cold and emotionless. I am impressed by whatever training Satoh endured just so he could move and fight like how I imagine a samurai would move.
Technical wise, the music scoring of the movie is really great that added depth on a lot of scenes. The music varies from haunting violin pieces to orchestral pieces to hard rock, and each song perfectly captures the mood of the scene that it is set to. There were a couple of moments where I was watching and thinking “Wow. This soundtrack is fantastic!” The music is so good in places that you end up focusing on the sound and not what’s going on screen. Hihi But most of all I love the main OST of this Movie “Beginning” by One Ok Rock. Even though, those English lyrics are the ones I understand. Omoo!! Can someone translate the Japanese lyrics for me?? Hehehe :))
All in all, I really enjoyed this film. I’m always a little wary of this kind of adaptations, because more often than not they can go wrong. I’m really looking forward to the future of this live-action adaptation, which certainly proves that translating from paper to screen can result in a wonderful experience.
If you’re a Rurouni Kenshin fan, then I recommend watching this movie because it is exciting to see one of your childhood anime brought to life and have justice done to it. Hunting down the subtitled movie online will be a challenge but it will be worth it!
Having said all of these, I just have to declare that Rurouni Kenshin would have the fans of the anime will not be disappointed. It was well worth all the hype, and it definitely exceeded my expectations.