Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno Movie Review

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno Theatrical/Character Poster. Image (c) Warner Bros. Japan

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno Theatrical/Character Poster. Image (c) Warner Bros. Japan

“Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno” is the first of the two live-action installment sequels on the continuing saga of Himura Kenshin – the wanderer, or otherwise known as “Battosai”, and is loosely based on the “Kyoto Arc”, which is undeniably one of the most-celebrated arcs from the manga and eventually on anime material created by mangaka Nobuhiro Watsuki.

“Kyoto Inferno” basically covers the story of an ex-assassin – Shishio’s foundation and his evil plan to overthrow the current Meiji government. While there are few alterations in the live-action adaptation, the writers clearly established that Kenshin is a changed man, repenting for his sins by protecting Tokyo. This is why Kaoru got worried when she heard of the looming war because she fears that Kenshin might go back to his old self again in the form of killing – this, if you didn’t know is basically the whole point of Kenshin as a wanderer, armed with a reversed-blade sword to protect and not to kill.

When Sojiro Seta, Shishio’s right-hand man was introduced in the anime, he easily became one of my favourite villains that’s known for not displaying emotions and always smiling even when fighting and possesses swordsmanship skills at par with Kenshin. So, it was rather disappointing that it felt like their fight scenes were rushed but boy, those fight sequences were choreographed perfectly.

Telling a good story is one thing, but the real challenge here when adapting an anime or manga material would be the execution. The anime, of course, works like magic because you can do almost anything, there is no limit (except when it’s a total fantasy genre) long as it is believable. One can easily jump from one rooftop to the other; suspend oneself up in the air; and other tricks that you can recall from your favourite anime or manga. But having that shown in a live-action film was a different level and it brings some guts to do that (let us not talk mess here that is “Dragonball Evolution”). Having staged the fight sequence on a dry surface is really challenging, so kudos on the last few minutes when Kenshin is fighting Shishio’s team on a wet surface/ship. Suffice to say, those equally hard fight scenes were choreographed really, really well that I couldn’t help but ask for more!

Couple of things: these are subtle but as a hard-core fan I really enjoyed that part when Kenshin is fighting with Shishio’s thugs, the fight sequence is way moving too fast, but it didn’t escape my eyes when the camera focused on how Kenshin “tilt” his reversed-blade sword. Another one was during his fight with Cho when his blade cuts Cho’s hair. There’s also this particular scene that I’m a bit worried at first because I thought people in the cinema would find it over-the-top and would just laugh over it, but they didn’t. It was when Kenshin thought he killed Cho, and he remains in his fighting stance – this is a recurring theme in any anime/manga and I’m glad that nobody reacted on the scene (or perhaps they didn’t care too much?). And lastly, during Aoshi and Nenji’s fight where the latter had to say his parting words (while in his fighting stance) to the former before he fell off his knees and dies. These are just some of the feats that I got to love from the original material that the producers successfully injected on this film.

What I like about this whole Rurouni franchise is that the producers were able to pick-up the right materials. The first Rurouni film back in 2012, I thought, was really the beginning of the saga. Takani Megumi’s back-story was rather complicated and it fits perfectly on that category to build up the conflict without trying too hard on the narrative side. While on the other hand, villains like Udo Jin-e and Takeda Kanryu sits really well too on the “villainous” category: one that spells power/influence, and the other with strength/skills. Having said that, it’s a good thing that the producers picked-up the “Kyoto Arc” from the original material because this was really the highlight of Kenshin’s post-assassin life.

What’s ahead? I won’t mind if the writers would have a different approach on how to end the whole Shishio story via the second installment “Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends” but it would be a feat for me seeing a four-way battle between Kenshin-Aoshi-Saito-Shishio. We’ll also see if Kenshin will finally succumbed on killing again to save the people that are dear to him. And as Shishio said, “the strong will live and the weak will die” so, who will live? And who dies?

Rating: 10/10