The idea of making a live action movie based on a manga or anime series has been around for years. Back in 2012, a film called “Rurouni Kenshin” came out and stood out from the rest however. It’s based on a popular Shōnen manga of the same name (also known as “Samurai X”) written and illustrated by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Steeped deeply in samurai culture and Japanese history, the manga did well at capturing action, adventure, drama, and even comedic moments. Following in its footsteps while wearing its own shoes, this adaption brilliantly walks the fine line of recreating those superb qualities while also showcasing itself as a stand-alone great.
Takeru Satoh stars as the masterful swordsman known as Kenshin Himura. Alongside him, Emi Takei takes on the role of Kendo school owner Kaoru Kamiya. Munetaka Aoki comes in as Sanosuke Sagara, the street fighter who loves to slug it out (and also enjoys a good break to devour food and drink). Another fighter with a lot of heart is Taketo Tanaka’s character; the young, street-smart and smart-mouthed Yahiko Myojin. Yōsuke Eguchi does well in his role as Hajime Saito, a police officer working for the Meiji government who has a past that intertwines with the main protagonist’s. Yū Aoi steps into the role of Takani Megumi, a beautiful healer who is forced to make opium for the bad guys. Speaking of bad guys, Kōji Kikkawa captures the menacing presence of the blood-thirsty revenge driven Jin-e Udo quite well. Teruyuki Kagawa adds to the list of baddies, playing the greedy and ruthless businessman Takeda Kanryū. By his side, Go Ayano stars as Gein and Genki Sudo as Banjin Inui.
Formerly a legendary man-slayer during the time of the Bakumatsu war, Himura Kenshin now strives to live a peaceful life, wandering around and helping those in need. After vowing to never kill again and leaving his old sword behind along with his bloody past, he now travels the countryside of Japan with a reverse-bladed sword, a sword seemingly incapable of killing, at his side. The past isn’t as keen on letting go however. A greedy business with an opium scheme and an old adversary carrying his previous blade come into his life, testing the limits of how far Kenshin can go without breaking his no-kill vow.
Have you ever watched a comedian perform live? What really gets a belly laugh isn’t always the structure of the joke but how it is told, the small details that accompany the joke. With Rurouni Kenshin, it’s a similar thing. The choreography alone is highly entertaining and refreshing! That isn’t the end though, what truly elevates this is how it is all executed. Speed and precision accentuate the fight choreography that is portrayed and one can truly believe many of the characters are hardened fighters when watching the movie. Each fight is entertaining for more than the prospect of a violent blow however.
Whether it’s the pacing of a fight that leads to a comedic mid-fight break or the look on a thug’s face as he is about to receive a blow so powerful it seems like it would make Bruce Lee wince in sympathetic pain, “Rurouni Kenshin” finds ways to add bits of humor to even the most thrilling fights.
Many of the action scenes are accompanied by a slow-mo moment to highlight the peak adrenaline moments. While this can be an excellent finishing touch that complements an already exciting fight, the amount of reliance on it comes close to being a little too much. Though a little more restraint with the effect would have helped, the movie stops shy from using it to an intolerable level. From beginning to end, a full spectrum of emotions are directed by the beautiful music played in the background of casual everyday moments, life or death battles, and everything in between.
During some of the more heartfelt moments, the music flows into the foreground, guiding emotions while there is no dialogue from the characters. A flashback to Himura Kenshin’s days as an assassin showcases this well, accentuating the reveal of why he has the “X” shaped scar on his cheek. The fact that the film can simply use pacing and music to orchestrate emotion is a testament to the value of this film. No mean feat.
An exhilarating samurai adventure set in the early days of the Meiji Restoration, this is a must watch for anime fans, movie goers and martial arts nerds of all ‘styles’!
- The action director / stunt coordinator for the film, Kenji Tanigaki, has a history with the star of the famous “Ip Man movies”, Donnie Yen. They’ve worked together many times over the years, going as far back as the 1998 action movie “Ballistic Kiss”.
- The movie success spawned two sequels which aired in 2014, “Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno” and “Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends”. Each movie went on to be released internationally with subtitles in multiple languages.
- The character of Himura Kenshin was based on a real life samurai named Kawakami Gensai. Many of the other characters are also influenced by historical Japanese figures.
- Though the idea of a sakabato, or reverse-bladed sword, was originally conceived for the manga the film was based on, the design has since been replicated for and by fans of the Rurouni Kenshin series.
- This film was released in North America under the name “Rurouni Kenshin: Origins”.