Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (Japan, 2021)

The story of how the former Battosai, Kenshin Himura, received his trademark scar is revealed in this prequel, which also serves as the final film of the “gold standard” in live-action adaptations of manga and anime.

In 1863, Kenshin Himura was a young and quiet expert in the sword art of Mugen-Hisetsu-Ryu, deciding to join a band of samurai in overthrowing the Shogunate. In one year, Kenshin’s swordmanship has earned him one hundred kills and is considered one of the most feared samurai in Kyoto. The Shingunsemi, the Shogunate’s police force, find Kenshin the biggest threat. However, after every kill he performs, he feels uneasy. His life is about to take a drastic turn though.

After arriving at a local inn, he finds some men harassing Tomoe Yukishiro. Kenshin manages to dispatch the men to Tomoe’s shock. She soon begins to appreciate Kenshin, who is surprised to have someone close to him. After a massive battle in July 1864, Kenshin must go into hiding and Tomoe is asked to keep an eye on him by his friend Katsura. However, a group intends to eliminate Kenshin and much to his shock, he soon learns that the woman he has fallen in love with may be connected. Will Kenshin be able to escape those who want him dead?

The final film of the Rurouni Kenshin live-action franchise, which began in 2012, also serves as a prequel as we see how samurai Kenshin Himura, once again played by Takeru Satoh, not only becomes the Battosai, but how he received his now trademark star-shaped scar on his cheek. The former comes in a brief flashback in which supporting character Katsura Kogoro, played by Issey Takahashi, explains to a geisha in his home. Kenshin’s quiet nature makes him the ridicule of fellow samurai, until he shows his skills by embarrassing one in front of the crowd.

The heart of the film comes in the form of the relationship between Kenshin and Tomoe Yukishiro, played with such excellence by Kasumi Arimura. She is a woman who sees Kenshin as a strong yet quiet swordsman who can “rain blood” with his reputation as the Battosai. We see the relationship between the two grow to a relationship that has its shares of consequences. One is that Kenshin begins to consider giving up his lifestyle as an assassin while for Tomoe, a revelation about her introduces her brother Enishi, here played by Towa Araki, will eventually become the main villain of Rurouni Kenshin: The Final and played by Mackenyu Arata.

There is also the character of Hajime Saito, once again played by Yosuke Eguchi, who in this film is the head of the Shingensumi, the Shogunate’s police force and sees Kenshin as a threat. However, even though Saito sees Kenshin as a threat, he has some sort of respect for him because of his impeccable skills with the sword. This is before the two would form an alliance in the previous films of course and the film does end with the opening scene of the first Rurouni Kenshin live-action movie.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning ends the franchise on the highest note imaginable when it comes to live-action anime and manga. A blend of exhilarating action with an emotionally tragic love story for our protagonist is driven by the performances by Takeru Satoh and Kasumi Arimaru. This is why this franchise is the “gold standard” for live-action manga and anime.

WFG RATING: A+

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

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Kasumi Arimura, Issey Takahashi, Yosuke Eguchi, Nijiro Murakami, Masanobu Ando, Towa Araki, Shima Onishi, Takahiro Fujimoto, Soko Wada.

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