The Japanese samurai manga and anime comes to live in this amazingly-shot action-drama about a man’s search for redemption in a new era.
In 1868, the Edo period of Japan is coming to a close. During the last battle of the Boshin War, the Shinseigumi, led by Hajime Saito, find a top notch assassin known as the Battosai. However, the rebels prove to be too much and the war has come to an end. Convinced that a new era is dawning, the Battosai puts down his sword and vows never to kill again.
Ten years later, during the Meiji Restoration, a wandering swordsman named Kenshin Himura arrives in town. Carrying a reverse-bladed sword, he doesn’t want any trouble with anyone. While the code of the samurai is forbidden, he still lives by the code as does Hajime Saito, who has now become a top government agent. Saito begins to have problems with local warlord Kanryu Takeda. Kanryu wants to take over a local martial arts school run by Kaoru Kamiya so he can create an opium factory.
Kanryu’s ace in the hole is young girl Megumi Takani, who knows the formula for making the best opium in town. However, she dislikes Kanryu and decides to escape. Meanwhile, when Kaoru is harrassed by a band of goons, Kenshin comes to the rescue. When Kenshin is arrested for his bravery, Hajime recognizes him. Kenshin is the one-time Battosai, having gave up killing for a more righteous path. Kanryu has hired a fake Battosai to cause trouble and spread fear in town. When his new friends feel the threat of Kanryu and his men, will Kenshin gain the strength to do what’s right and revert back to his ways as a samurai to stop the evil threat?
Based on the original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, the story of the star-shaped scarred ex-samurai did very well in anime form. When the live-action adaptation was announced, there had been some worry as it seems as of late, anime/manga and video games are the sources of some pretty bad live-action films. However, director and co-writer Keishi Ohtomo has done his homework and the film is truly a great film adaptation, with a nicely paced 135 minutes.
Takeru Satoh, who starred in Kamen Rider Den-O and is one of the spokespeople for Lotte Fit’s gum, pulls off the lead role of Kenshin Himura nicely. Not only does he sport the look to a tee, but he actually proves he can pull off the action sequences quite nicely. As for female lead role Kaoru Kimiya, Emi Takei plays it well as the young female wannabe samurai who despite knowing Kenshin’s past, befriends him due to his righteousness. Yosuke Eguchi also essays his role of ex-samurai turned officer Hajime Saito well, showing that even though it is a new age, he still evokes that samurai spirit in him as does Kenshin, who may not kill anymore, but uses his skills for the good of mankind.
The only flaw in the whole film is the one-dimensional performance of Teruyuki Kagawa as lead villain Kanryu Takeda. Yes, Kanryu is somewhat of a drug dealer and pusher. He even can be considered a slave master as he has former ronin and samurai working under meager conditions at his ranch. Furthermore, he plans to make a drug-production plant out of Kaoru’s martial arts school. The only problem with the role is that Kagawa spends the film mostly mugging and screaming for the camera. When things do not go his way, he tends to act somewhat, like a cry baby.
The action sequences are truly a delight to watch. The stunt team definitely deserve their praise for pulling off some amazing swordplay mixed with the right amount of wirework necessary. In one scene, a bare-handed Kenshin takes on a group of thugs harrassing Kaoru and members of her school. This all becomes the catalyst for what Kenshin realizes what he is destined for.
If you have been disappointed with live-action adaptations of anime or manga, then consider Rurouni Kenshin the savior of the live action anime. Takeru Satoh does a great job in the central role and despite a one-dimensional villain, this is still an enjoyable action-drama.
WFG RATING: A-
A Warner Brothers Japan Production. Director: Keishi Ohtomo. Producer: Shinzo Matsuhashi. Writers: Kiyomi Fujii and Keishi Ohtomo; based on the original manga by Nobuhiko Watsuki. Cinematography: Takuro Ishizaka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Masataka Kubota, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Eiji Okuda, Taketo Tanaka, Koji Kikkawa.