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‘Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno’: A fangirl’s review

Posted on: August 8, 2014

Published in InterAksyon.comAugust 7, 2014 · 3:20 pm

MANILA – “The strong shall live, the weak shall die.”

That might as well be the line that defines this second installment of the “Rurouni Kenshin” franchise, which is based on the manga and anime “Rurouni Kenshin” (shown as “Samurai X” here in the Philippines more than a decade ago).

This was also the guiding principle of Kenshin Himura’s (Takeru Satoh) arch nemesis, Shishio Makoto (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who was the rogue hitokiri that the Royalists/Imperialists engaged after the former laid down his sword 10 years before. Kenshin was the assassin that the Royalists used in broad daylight while Shishio, his kohai, was the hitokiri in the shadows.

Fujiwara plays Shishio with relish–he even has Shishio’s raspy, menacing voice that the character had in the anime series. I could barely recognize Fujiwara (who played Light Yagami in the live-action Death Note movie) behind the bandage, red-rimmed eyes and peeling skin.

The movie opens with Saito Hajime–the chief of police of the Meiji government and formerly the head of the Shinsengumi (the military police protecting the Shogunate)–facing Shishio, who in turn has the Meiji policemen hanged and later dropped into the roaring fires below. Saito (played by Yosuke Eguchi) is still as stoic as ever, barely showing any emotion as his men fall to their fiery end.

This sets the tone that this movie no longer tries to be cute and the body count will surely mount.

In the midst of this inferno, Shishio tells Saito of his grand plan to wrest control of the country from the government and lead Japan in becoming a stronger nation at the expense of all what he considered as weaklings. Obviously he’s a fan of social Darwinism.

Those who have not watched the anime, read the manga or seen the first installment would have a difficult time following the next scene that shows life for Kenshin and his friends at the Kamiya Dojo. The movie dispenses with introductions and references to the first movie to save time (since the “Shishio/Kyoto Arc” is about 30 episodes in the anime).

The Meiji government has asked for Kenshin’s help to neutralize and even kill Shishio, who is now a growing threat to the hard-won peace that the Emperor’s men have managed to put in place. As Home Minister Toshimichi Okubo says, Shishio’s skills as a samurai are equal to that of Kenshin’s.

But then why would Kenshin help the government clean up its mess? It was the government who created the monster that is Shishio, Sanosuke points out during Kenshin’s meeting with government officials.

The movie does not make the government’s failed attempt to kill off Shishio pretty. Instead of just shooting him in the head (which should have explained the metal plate around his head), the Ishin Shishi (government’s group of assassins) stab him repeatedly with their swords at close quarters and douse him with gasoline together with the other corpses that Shishio killed in the name of the Emperor. The only fly in the ointment is Shishio manages to live–thanks to the snow that falls right after the grisly crime.

Shishio, however, is thankful for what the government did to him for this taught him resilience and made him stronger. His ultimate aim is grander than just merely exacting revenge on the government. Getting rid of it is just a means to achieve his goal, he tells Kenshin during their first encounter in a village that Shishio burned to the ground.

To help him realize his dream of taking over Japan, Shishio gathers his Jupongatana (Ten Swords) to fight off Kenshin and kill all those who oppose him.

As a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, I can’t help but notice the movie’s glaring departure from the anime and manga (sorry to non-Samurai X fans):

1. Aoshi Shinomori should have been part of the first movie, as an employee-assassin-bodyguard of the opium pusher Kanryu, and the last members of the Oniwabanshu are supposed to be there with him. Megumi and Aoshi should know each other since they have been employees of Kanryu but in the second installment of Rurouni Kenshin movie, the two are complete strangers to each other.

2. In the anime and manga, Aoshi’s men are supposed to be annihilated by Kanryu’s Gatling gun (in the first movie). He pins the blame on Kenshin. In the movie, however, Aoshi goes looking for Kenshin to avenge his men’s death, who are supposed to be protectors of the Edo castle before the Restoration period. Aoshi’s men were tricked and killed of by the Meiji government after the Royalists took over. Guilty by association, Kenshin is hunted by Aoshi.

3. Cho’s long flexible, whip-like swords (similar to the urumi from India) were replaced by ordinary long swords. It would probably would have been difficult to train with and film fight scenes with this kind of weapon without resorting to CGI.

*Spoiler alert!*

4. Kenshin was supposed to have gone to his sensei, Hiko Seijuro, after his fight with Cho (member of Jupongatana), to complete his training and learn the essence of the Hitten Mitsurugi Ryu (his style of swordfighting). In the movie “Kyoto Inferno”, an unconscious Kenshin is found on the beach by Hiko after he jumped off the battleship Rengoku to rescue Kauro, after she (kidnapped by Sojrio Seta) was pushed off by Shishio into the ocean.

5. Sanosuke is supposed to destroy the Rengoku with the bombs supplied by his friend and Shishio, Yumi and Hoji escape and regroup in Mount Hiei where the final battle should take place. No such thing happens in the movie. Shishio and his Jupongatana successfully leave for Tokyo in the battleship.

*End of spoiler*

CHARACTERS

– We have a more brooding Kenshin here, who now has the tendency to hunch his back, tilt his head to one side and narrow his eyes when he throws his dagger looks to his opponent. There is a scene where he looks like a possessed angry animal with a stiff neck and walks like he’s suffering from cramps.  Attempts at “oro” and to make him comical fail.

– Sanosuke is still baka (stupid) and loud as ever. He is probably the only comic relief in this movie.

– Kaoru has expanded her menu of weapons. Aside from the usual bamboo sword (shinai) for kendo and wooden sword (bokken), she uses a jo (wooden staff) and a naginata (similar to a European glaive) during the Kyoto attack. She rarely smiles now.

– Smaller screen time for Megumi but the chemistry between Megumi and Sanosuke is more palpable compared with that of Kenshin and Kaoru. There is even more love (bromance!) between Sano and Kenshin (compared with the Kenshin-Kaoru pair) when the former hits the latter in the case and says he followed Kenshin to Kyoto to help him.

– I fear for Saito’s health. He always has a cigarette stuck between his lips, even when slashing his enemies. No facial expressions whatsoever still.

– I love Sojiro Seta. He delivers that happy smile when he kills, he speaks with other people, and with dealing with Shishio. He is like a misplaced child among the seasoned killers. But he is the best fighter among the Jupongatana and the fight scene between him and Kenshin is one of the highlights of this movie.

Which brings me now to…

The fight scenes: I will watch the movie over and over just for the fight scenes and wax lyrical about them.

Kenshin fighting with Shishio’s men after burning down a village is so much fun. Great choreography and fast sword play on the part of Takeru Satoh. No, the bad guys are not lining up to be beaten and do nothing while waiting to be beaten up. They attack Kenshin from all sides and Kenshin beating them all up from all directions was a sight to behold.

Kenshin’s fight with Sojiro after Shishio and Yumi took off involves lightning-fast swordplay and great choreography. If I remember it right, there is flying involved. Kenshin and Sojiro’s fighting stances are similar and it is exciting to see what comes after the stances. When you finally see Sojiro’s fighting technique on live action, your heart will stop.

The fight between Kenshin and Cho elicited “whoas” from the audience during the movie premiere at Megamall Wednesday night. In one scene where Kenshin catches the “true sword” thrown at him by Arai (the swordmaker’s son), the audience even clapped their hands in delight. Can’t describe it properly because I have to watch it again to appreciate its beauty.

DOWNSIDE:

Long speeches. They look and sound like orations instead of explanations made by several of the characters in the movie. The exchange between Kaoru and Kenshin before the latter leaves for Kyoto is too long. This same problem made the first movie’s ending look silly, with Kaoru running out of breath but still able to deliver her long monologue.

Too little chemistry between Takeru Satoh and Emi Takei makes the parting before Kenshin’s travel to Kyoto too long and the meaningful gaze between the two contrived. Or maybe it’s just me.

Despite these (because of the nitpicking on my part), this movie is still a must-see for “Rurouni Kenshin” fans out there. For the non-fans, the sword fights are enough reason to watch.

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