Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (Japan, 2021)

The cross-shaped scarred former assassin is back after seven years and this time, he meets his greatest enemy yet, an old familiar face, in the first of two final films based on the manga and anime.

Tokyo has delved into peace since the new government has taken over. During a train stop, police captain Hajime Saito meets Enishi Yukihiro, a Japanese man who has now become a boss in the Shanghai mafia. He reveals he once sold a warship to the now late Makoto Shishio. When Enishi questions about the Battosai, he causes a fight the heads to a willful surrender. It is clear Enishi has it in for the former Battosai, Kenshin Himura. After his release, Enishi sets his plan to prove that man judges and that he wants revenge on Kenshin.

When Kenshin and his friends find Tokyo under attack, he finally sees Enishi and realizes why he wants revenge. Kenshin reveals to his friends what they had longed to hear. Kenshin was married to Enishi’s sister Tomoe, who only used him at first to get revenge for her first love. However, Tomoe had fallen for Kenshin, who longed had been wanting to give up the name of Battosai. Accidentally killing her as she tried to protect him, Kenshin makes her gives him his now trademark scars before her last breath. As Kenshin learns Enishi has waged an all-out war against Kenshin and has kidnapped Kaoru, Kenshin is ready for one last fight and this time, he’s going to get some help in the unlikeliest of places.

It’s been seven years since we last saw Takeru Satoh as Kenshin Himura, the former Battosai, and not only was it worth the wait but it is worth the nearly two and a half hour running time. Once again with Keishi Ohtomo at the helm, this is a fitting finale to the franchise, although a prequel, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning, was released just a few weeks ago in Japan. Hopefully, that will follow suit and be released on Netflix like this one was.

Most of the core cast returns in their signature roles. Satoh once again shines as Kenshin Himura, who now lives in peace only to be shattered by his former brother-in-law. Emi Takei is great again as Kaoru Kamiya, who has been crushing on Kenshin for a while now but is afraid to admit it, especially after learning his backstory. Munetaka Aoki once out gets his craziness in as the outspoken and sometimes arrogant Sanosake Sagara while Yosuke Eguchi plays is cool again as former samurai turned police chief Hajime Saito. Eguchi’s coolness brings to mind Chow Yun-Fat in A Better Tomorrow as he manages to use his skills while having a cigarette in his mouth at times.

The film also has a scene-stealing performance by Mackenyu Arata as Ensihi Yukihiro, Kenshin’s former brother-in-law, who holds a grudge against him for the death of his sister. Much like Tatsuay Fujiwara’s Makoto Shishio, Enishi is hellbent not only on destroying the new regime in Japan, but in a precursor to the Sino-Japanese war, attempts for China to take over Japan in the form of the Shanghai mafia he is in charge of. In addition, like Shishio’s Ten Swords, Enishi has his own small army of warriors, including one who goes like Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead and uses an arm for either a cannon or a Gatling gun.

Kenji Tanigaki once again serves as the film’s action director and once again, his work has paid off. Amazing swordfights mixed with the anime-style moves (used by wirework) are done perfectly. The film has some major twists in the form of some returning characters from the previous films who once were rivals to Kenshin only to respect him and surprisingly help him during the third act, which starts out as an all-out war between Kenshin and practically the entire Shanghai mafia Enishi runs which in turns leads to the showdown between Enishi and Kenshin, which is just amazing and has its own twists and turns along the way.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is a fitting conclusion to the saga of the former Battosai, Kenshin Himura. While I anticipate the prequel The Beginning, one thing is for certain. This franchise is the gold standard of live-action manga and anime adaptations. If you haven’t seen any of the installments, it’s time you have.

WFG RATING: A+

A Warner Bros. Japan production. Director: Keishi Ohtomo. Producers: Hiroyoshi Koiwai and Satoshi Fukushima. Writer: Keishi Ohtomo; based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Cinematography: Takuro Ishizuka. Editing: Tsuyoshi Imai.

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Mackenyu Arata, Yu Aoi, Munetaka Aoki, Tao Tsuchiya, Yosuke Eguchi, Yusuke Iseya, Riku Onishi, Ryosuke Miura, Takuya Oto’o, Shingo Tsurumi, Takeo Nakahara.

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