When we first heard about Rurouni Kenshin being live adapted and distributed by Warner Brothers, many fans were sceptical and feared a repeat of the godawful Dragon Ball Z butchery by Hollywood. However, the entire thing was done in Japan by a Japanese cast and crew with oversight from mangaka Nobuhiro Watsuki. With that in mind, we breathed a sigh of relief and watched everything unfold.
Pictures of Sato Takeru in Kenshin costume soon flooded the Web and set off an orgasmic frenzy by the plethora of Kenshin fangirls (myself included). The movie was a huge success and proved that live adaptations of comics and cartoons don't have to suck, they just do a lot of the time. The movie's success also paved the way for the Kyoto Arc to be live adapted.
So much good! First of all, the music is top notch. It's quite different from the anime and OVAs, but this is fine, since the movies are a different adaptation. Second, the actors. Everyone is so good in their role. Sato Takeru is so adorable as our tortured, guilt-ridden little rurouni. Munetaka Aoki is hilarious as Sanosuke. Takei Emi brings just the right amount of spirit and pluck to Kaoru without overdoing her as the anime did. Yuu Aoi is every bit the vixen that Megumi is supposed to be. Taketa Tanaka is a little firebrand and makes Yahiko funny and loveable without being (too) annoying. Yusuke Eguchi does a pretty good job as Saitou, though he lacks the antenna bangs and is a bit chubby.
The main bad guys are Takeda Kanryuu and Udo Jinei. Teruyuki Kagawa is over the top hilarious as Takeda Kanryuu and rather reminds me of Jack Nicholson's Joker in the 1989 Batman movie. Udo Jinei is played by Koji Kikkawa. In canon Jinei is a bit over the top, laughing like a maniac whenever he kills someone. Kikkawa's interpretation is more subdued, but no less creepy. His singular drive to reawaken the assassin sleeping inside Kenshin makes him a formidable foe.
The locations are all believable. The outdoor scenes are very beautiful.
The fight scenes were awesome! The outdoor fight at Kanryuu’s estate showed Kenshin and Sano easily beating down Kanryuu’s samurai as Kanryuu tosses money out the window to try to motivate the samurai to beat Kenshin and Sano. Not happening!
Kenshin’s fight with Jinei was riveting. Broken up into three rounds, Kenshin is roundly trounced by Jinei until he’s totally turned back into Battousai, then breaks Jinei’s nose with a Ryu Tsui Sen and finishes by severing the tendons in his right arm with a So Ryu Sen. Awesome stuff!
This is what you get when you
mess with Battousai’s woman.
Instead of the Hiruma Brothers attempting to take over the dojo, we simply get some random thugs sent by Kanryuu and Udo Jinei playing the false Battousai. This is forgivable though as the movie couldn't run too long and most of it was handled intelligently.
Kenshin’s relationship with Tomoe is completely altered by the fact that he sees her weeping over Akira’s body the day after he killed Akira. It’s completely different if he already knows who Tomoe is when they first meet!
Almost zero interaction between Sanosuke and Megumi. Megumi’s upbraiding of Sano for being stupid and obnoxious was totally absent and very much missed.
No mention was made of Sanosuke's past with the Sekihoutai, leaving him a bit oafish and one dimensional. Still lovable though.
Yahiko was given way too little to do. Although his plucky personality is present, we never get to see him kick ass and take names with his shinai. The one time he does fight, he’s easily beaten by Kanryuu’s thugs.
Also, Kaoru was given so little to do that some people wanted to pair Kenshin up with Megumi because those two seemed to interact more.
Saitou’s gatotsu on a chandelier looked pretty silly. XP
I believe I can fly.
Leaving out Aoshi and the Oniwabanshuu was the movie's biggest mistake, I think. Aoshi was one of Kenshin's biggest enemies and deserved to have his story intact.
A very fine adaptation of the manga, which I rate 7/10. Takeru brings Kenshin to life so perfectly that I would love to marry him, make him dress up as Kenshin and allow me to indulge my prurient Kenshin fantasies on him for the rest of our lives.
If the first movie was the opening score, Kyoto Taikahen is the crescendo of the symphony. Everything about this movie was just majestic and epic. Also, of the three movies, this one follows canon the closest.
Everyone was able to return to their previous roles (except Yahiko). The first person we see is Eguchi's Saitou, this time much slimmer and sporting the antenna bangs. Just those two things totally transformed him into a very believable Saitou. Next, we meet Shishio Makoto (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara), standing in a sea of flame, looking for all the world like the devil himself. The grand, rolling musical score that they use for Shishio's introduction is spine tingling.
Seeing the Kenshingumi taking in a play together is funny. The play actually turns out to be about Hitokiri Bakkyusai, a funny sendup of Battousai. The bumbling assassin on stage doesn't get too many kills, but a lot of laughs. It's really fun to watch Kenshin doing something normal, like laughing at a play, even if he is indirectly the subject of it.
Another plus is that we finally get some much needed interaction between Sanosuke and Megumi. It's as funny as we might imagine. Sanosuke makes an inappropriate or off kilter remark and Megumi pounces on him for it, calling him "oaf" and "stupid" a few times. Love it!
Also, Sanosuke is given a bit more depth by showing his disdain for the Meiji government. The way he crunches defiantly into a tomato right in the face of Kawaji of the police is hilarious and is totally Sanosuke!
Other notable highlights are the assassination of Governor Okubo by a frightfully smiling Seta Sojirou (very well played by Kamiki Ryunosuke). The whole scene was perfectly lifted from the pages of the manga.
Another good thing is Makimachi Misao, delightfully played by Tsuchiya Tao. Unlike in the manga and anime, Misao had me smiling from the moment she stole Kenshin's sakabatou till she gave Aoshi a mouthful in the final film. She was bubbly, delightful, yet strong as steel and so very useful in battle. During the Kyoto Inferno battle, Misao was out there, kicking ass and taking names. If she had been like that in canon, I would have liked the character a lot more.
Kenshin and Misao work well together in the Shingetsu Village incident. Misao watches over Eiji while Kenshin proceeds to dispense his justice on Shishio’s men for murdering Eiji’s family.
Kenshin’s first confrontation with Shishio was very faithful to the manga. The tension between the two former assassins crackles like electricity and the death glares they give each other are sweet!
Kenshin’s match with Sojirou was well choreographed and you really see what a disadvantage a non-killing vow puts Kenshin at against a swordsman who has no qualms about killing.
Kenshin's fight with Chou was the highlight of the film for me. Everything was there. Little Iori is viciously ripped from his parents' arms by Chou, who wants a subject to test Arai Shakku's last sword on. The fight with Kenshin at the shrine is picture perfect. Although we don't get to see the Hakujin, we do get treated to the Renbatou and Chou gets a few slashes on Kenshin with the double blade. The big moment is so perfect. Kenshin's reaction to believing he had broken his vow is simply heartbreaking and the music that accompanies it is beautiful.
I also thought Kaoru was given better treatment in this movie. In the beginning, we see her in the drill hall, overseeing her students and shouting out instructions to them. We also get more interaction between her and Kenshin. Although some might disagree, I liked Kaoru's reaction to Kenshin's departure better in the movie. In canon of course, Kaoru falls into a depression and mopes around in her futon for three days until Megumi bitches her out for it. In this version, Kaoru sulks, but more by ignoring the situation, acting as if Kenshin had never existed at all. Finally, Kaoru gets to kick ass and take names as well. Wielding a wooden naginata, she takes out several of Shishio's thugs. This is what Kaoru fans have been waiting for!
The battle between Aoshi and Okina is awesome. It follows the manga version very closely with Misao coming in just as Aoshi delivers the final blow to poor Okina. Aoshi then warns Misao off him and walks away, leaving Misao stricken.
Another plus is that we get to hear Megumi's speech to Kaoru about Kenshin's health, except it's done as Megumi's motivation for Kaoru to go to Kyoto instead of after the battle with Shishio, but whatever. The point is, Megumi still gets Kaoru to realize that Kenshin isn't an invincible demigod, but a frail human being like the rest of us.
The Sayonara scene, while still touching, really lacked the charm of the anime's treatment of it. It was done during the day and there were no fireflies.
Due to Taketa Tanaka's growth spurt, Kaito Oyagi replaced him as Yahiko. Unfortunately, Oyagi brought none of Tanaka's fire and spirit to the role, leaving Yahiko as flat as a pancake.
The rest of the Juppongatana were given very little to do, nothing more than screen dressing really. Also, Kaoru ends up being kidnapped by Sojirou and held on the Purgatory in order to bait Kenshin into fighting them there. I really didn't find this necessary.
Due to his being excluded from the first movie, Aoshi's backstory is changed quite a bit. Instead of hunting Kenshin down due to his four comrades dying at Kanryuu's estate, he hunts Kenshin down simply because Kenshin was the strongest of the Ishin Shishi, who defeated the Bakufu, who in turn killed Aoshi's old Oniwabanshuu comrades to prevent them from trying to fight the Meiji government. This change makes Aoshi seem like a shallow, superficial character who has no good reason to go after Kenshin.
This one's the best of the three, rating a 10/10.
Densetsu no Saigohen
Kyoto Taikahen was the crescendo of the music. Unfortunately, Densetsu is the trailing ending and is a bit of a letdown after the perfection of the first two. It's still very good, but compared to what it could have been, it falls just a little flat.
O-Hiko-sama! After initial fears of his exclusion, we see that Kenshin's master is indeed in the movie, played by Japanese pop culture god Fukuyama Masaharu. With his wizened features and chiseled good looks, this middle aged man is perfect as Kenshin's middle aged, but still quite young looking, master. Masha-sama's Hiko isn't the arrogant braggart of canon, but is still imposing, powerful and has no trouble putting his errant pupil in his place during Kenshin's retraining.
Flashbacks to Kenshin's childhood, training under Hiko. There's nothing like watching little Kenshin getting beaten to a bloody stump to make you smile.
Misao continues to impress me in this movie. After they return to the Aoiya from Aoshi's fight with Kenshin, Misao doesn't just start fawning over Aoshi. Instead, she holds him to account for his misdeeds and gives him an earful, albeit politely. I totally respected Misao for not just forgiving Aoshi right away.
Although it’s short, Saitou nails Usui with an awesome gatotsu!
The end fight with Shishio is also great. Kenshin, Saitou, Sano and Aoshi all tag team against Shishio. Sanosuke gets to do a lot more than simply be knocked out by Shishio after one punch like in canon. Also, Shishio isn't shown as totally godlike. He gets knocked around a bit and we can see him being affected by the four heros' strikes on him, though he still puts up a hell of a fight!
Of course, one of my favorite scenes was when our smooth little Rurouni gave Kaoru a pretty red maple leaf. You know what I’m talking about. ;-)
Kenshin’s mastery of the secret was a bit underwhelming. I didn’t even realize he had performed it until I’d watched the film a few times.
Kaoru spends the first half of the movie comatose in a hospital, not waking up until after Kenshin has mastered the secret. She and Kenshin are apart all the way until the end of the movie. A beach reunion scene had been filmed, but was removed from the movie.
Sanosuke's relationship with Anji was completely excised, leaving their fight on the Purgatory feeling cheap and superficial.
We get no background on Sojirou, so are left to scratch our heads as to why he loses it after he can't defeat Kenshin on the Purgatory. Instead of doing the whole Kenshin as a fugitive subplot, they could have focused somewhat on Sojirou's background.
Aoshi is so far into the path of chaos that he kills Okina, although not directly. I hated Okina dying because it's in direct contradiction to the manga. The only thing I can guess is that Aoshi was in chaos for ten years in this timeline, whereas in canon, he was only in chaos for a few months, so he held back a bit when he struck Okina. In this, there was no holding back.
Killing this man is like killing Gandalf!
The Purgatory isn't destroyed, allowing Shishio to set sail and bombard Tokyo. I actually don’t mind this part. I always thought it sucked that the Purgatory was destroyed in the manga before we got to see what it could do. However, the subplot that follows is the most idiotic part of the movie!
The Purgatory’s bombing power enables Shishio to force the Meiji government's hand and demand that they hunt Kenshin down like a criminal. Wanted posters are put up and Kenshin ends up being assaulted and arrested when he returns to Kamiya Dojo. Why would Shishio want the government to execute Kenshin? Wouldn't he want to fight Kenshin himself? He expressed desire to twice in the previous movie. It's a bit of a contradiction.
Kenshin’s arrest and conversation with Ito leads to a mock execution on the beach. Houji reads off a list of the names of Kenshin’s victims from the Revolution. Kaoru and Sanosuke are stuck behind a fence, watching as this happens. That would have been a good time for Sano to knock down the fence, throw himself out there and beat the shit out of the government officials and Juppongatana. This whole subplot felt like a filler episode from the third season of the anime had been somehow wedged into the movie.
This movie is the weakest of the three, although still very good. 6/10
Overall, I just love these movies. Yes, some changes were made here and there and some things were excluded that should have been left in, but that’s always the nature of film adaptations. Instead of fretting over what we didn’t get, I’m grateful for the things we did get. There was such exquisite attention to detail that I just knew the cast and crew really wanted to do a great job adapting Kenshin, and they did!
Now, let’s all push for a live adaptation of the Jinchuu/Revenge Arc on Twitter by tweeting to @warnerjp, @teamOTOMO and @rurokenmovie until they agree to adapt it. The RK story is incomplete without it!