Thursday, 20 November 2014

Movie Review: Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Previous Review: Big Hero 6

Based on the hugely popular 1994 manga/anime historical fiction romantic action drama series, Kyoto Inferno is the second instalment of the Rurouni Kenshin (also known as Samurai X in many western countries) trilogy, which tells the story of Himura Kenshin/Battosai, a retired legendary samurai who seeks redemption for his past killings as an assassin who's responsible for toppling the Shogunate government and restore power to the emperor. However, his past soon comes back to haunt him. The sequel picks up where the original left off and the story continued with the Kyoto Arc adaptation, the series' best story arc. This time, stakes are higher as Japan is facing a larger threat imposed by Kenshin's evil successor, Makoto Shishio and Kenshin struggles to stop this impending threat to the newly established Meiji government he helped to restore. Finally, fans get to see their beloved characters brought to life on the big screen again.

Shishio and his Juppongatana (Ten Swords)

As the first of the manga/anime adaptation's two-part finale (Kyoto Inferno - Part 1 and The Legend Ends - Part 2), Shishio, a samurai with formidable skills equivalent to Kenshin's, declared an all-out war against the new government and he intends to bring back the old days of the Shogunate - "survival of the fittest" where the strong shall live and the weak shall die. He is joined by his the Juppongatana (Ten Swords), a group of highly skilled, elite assassins and a huge army of warriors under his command to destroy everything that stands in his way. On the other hand, Kenshin is joined by many new allies, The Oniwabanshu (Hidden Watcher ninjas), a surviving remnant of the old Shogunate's spy network in Kyoto and Saito Hajime, the current chief of police of the Meiji government who was the former Shinsengumi head (military police protecting the Shogunate).

The film benefits from the strong performances from the lead characters. Takeru Sato did a great job portraying as the reluctant and conflicted hero Kenshin, who's unwillingness to kill is constantly challenged by his desire to protect the innocent at the same time. The same could be said for Tatsuya Fujiwara as the main antagonist Shishio, who managed to create a frightful and imposing presence every time he appears on screen. The goals for the characters were clear from the beginning of the film. Yosuke Eguchi and Ryunosuke Kamiki both stand out as the icy cool chief of police Hajime Saito and cheerful young assassin Soujiro Seta (who's also one of the Juppongatana members) respectively. However, I was quite particularly annoyed by Munetaka Aoki's over-the-top performance as Sanosuke. His character was not well-handled and there was a lot of forced acting and unnecessary movements whenever he appears on screen.

Despite the numerous deviations from the source material (especially with the origin of the Oniwabanshu captain Aoshi), there's a lot attention to detail went into this movie. The character designs used for the film were as close to the source material as it could possibly be. A lot of the important manga/anime plot scenes were recreated with some minor changes to keep the core of the story intact. Moreover, what's really surprising is that the details of etiquette and mannerism of samurai or ninja was taken quite seriously in the film, which makes it feels like a Japanese period piece.

The film is filled with intensely well-choreographed, well-filmed sword-fighting scenes. Many of the action scenes were tightly choreographed and the fast paced sword fights were performed with some rather inventive moves. The depiction of the various legendary kenjutsu Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu (Flying Heaven Govern Sword-Style) techniques such as Ryutsuisen (Dragon Hammer Flash), Ryushosen (Dragon Flight Flash), Ryusosen (Dragon Nest Flash), Ryukansen (Dragon Coiling Flash) look realistic enough on screen. The fight scene as Kenshin swiftly takes down Shishio's army from all directions in a village was truly a sight to behold. Moreover, the fight between the Oniwabanshu ninja leaders Aoshi (Captain) and Okina (Elder) makes for a great action sequence as well.

As an adaptation, it is understood that it is necessary to pay homage to many of the well-known characters in the series for the fans. This results in a lot of characters are introduced in this sequel and some of them are less developed due to the limited screen time. Although the film did well in showing Kenshin's past struggles and Shishio's dark past, the subplot of the Oniwabanshu members, especially Misao and Aoshi doesn't fit in nicely to the story. Aoshi's motivations for searching and killing Battosai was unconvincing and feels downright flat. The presence of the Juppongatana (Ten Swords) was weak as other members hardly get any screen time at all (except Soujiro Seta and Cho of course). Hopefully we'll be able to see more of these characters in The Legend Ends, the last film in the trilogy.

Overall, Kyoto Inferno sets the pieces for the final epic showdown between Shishio with his Juppongatana and Kenshin with his allies. A lot of things are being pushed off for The Legend Ends and doesn't actually conclude by the end of this film, so it's rather difficult to judge this film on its own. We'll just have to wait and see.

Rating: 7/10

Note: For fans of the series, please try not to compare too much with the original manga.

Characters in manga

Previous Review: Big Hero 6

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