‘Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno’ is the sequel to the Rurouni Kenshin franchise, a Japanese live-action adaptation based on the popular samurai manga series of the same name. Keishi Otomo returned to the director’s seat for the follow up feature.
This action flick hit Japanese theatres in August 2014, premiered in the United States in 2014, with a subtitled version arriving abroad in September 2016 and a video on demand following soon after. Being the big-budget film of its magnitude, ‘Kyoto Inferno’ was shot in various locations in Japan, including Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagano, Ibaraki, and Kanagawa, with over 5000 extras participating in the production.
Takeru Satoh returns as the lethal contract killer Kenshin Himura. Just like the first entry, this new title picks up the protagonist’s journey to redemption and his moral dilemma as he struggles to reconcile his past as a cold-blooded killer with new personal and political circumstances as well as a switch over from the samurai era to the new period with modern social values and structures.
The plot for Kyoto Inferno is enriched by the way the historical backdrop is put up as well as how the side plots and the additional number of characters marry into each other enabling the movie to successfully present a more vibrant and fuller world in which the events occur.
As mentioned, there are a lot of characters in the sequel who are not properly introduced. This is due to the assumption that audiences have already watched the debut title ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ which came out in 2012 or have read the manga series or seen the anime. However, it is not really a must to have prior knowledge to enjoy this movie as there are flashbacks scattered in the movie giving snippets of the back story.
The first half of ‘Kyoto Inferno’ is packed with instinctual entertainment coated with a series of intelligent remarks in seemingly awkward situations as lived by the characters during a time when samurais were considered outdated, and sword-bearing was illegal during the early days of the Meiji Restoration.
The villain in this chapter is Makoto Shishio, a role played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, who is introduced in the compelling opening scene where the chain-smoking police officer from the first movie Hajime Saito still embodied by Yosuke Eguchi, confronts him. However, Shishio is covered in bandages from head to toe as we learn that he used to run within the same killer circles as Kenshin. However, he was stabbed in the back by the reformist government he killed for, set on fire, and was left for the dead. But his pathetic condition doesn’t prevent him from seeking revenge against the government for their betrayal, and soon an epic showdown ensues between his ghostly swordsmen and Saito’s gun-totting deputies.
Kenshin and the woman who offered him shelter in the first movie, Kaoru, share long scenes together in this movie, staring meaningfully into each other’s eyes, wondering whether he should actually accept the government’s offer to protect the masses from villains. But most of Kenshin’s time also goes towards tracking down the last blade made by a famous and highly skilled swordsmith called Shakkai Arai, who also crafted Kenshin’s intriguing, inverted blade, a katana sharpened on the inside in a way that prevents the former hitman from spilling blood. As we already know, he has sworn off killing and is trying to stay reformed. But Shishio is determined to make Kenshin break his word as he brings along his ten swords entourage, all hungry for a piece of the legend. Sadly, only one of the whole lot is skilled enough for a face-off against Kenshin.
Just as in the first movie, ‘Kyoto Inferno’ is a spectacle to watch the choreography is exceptional, fast-paced, without looking staged, minimal use of CGI, excellent use of inventive moves, the integration of fighting into the scenes, the masterful use of camera shots and angles intensifies the fight scenes. Add this to the plot element of Kenshin-tension, where he is trying to fight for peace and justice while avoiding reverting to his old ways as a killing machine. All these will definitely keep your adrenaline pumping throughout the action scenes.
The music is a mixture of eclectic and more upbeat tunes, a mash-up between western-style classical and electronica with a pompous Japanese pop-rock number running through the final credits. The music was intentionally done this way to keep the young fans happy and also symbolize the situation in Japan at the time which highlighted fears of been influenced by western cultures.
As with the first movie, the cast nailed their performances. Takeru Satu gives out not only the Kenshin aura but the playful yet lethal former Battousai. Shishio’s ruthlessness, despite being covered in plaster, was still very visible, and his most dangerous man Juppon Katana brought to life by Ryunosuke Kamiki, all delivering outstanding performances.
This movie pays great attention to bringing up the early Meiji period and making it as believable as possible when it comes to the details. This is especially factual for Kyoto, which is portrayed as a busy city packed with a concoction of traditional and western cultures. This is also enhanced by the costumes, which range from conventional coiffure to western suits and classic footwear, just to mention a few. All these pay homage to the historical setting where the story unfolds.
This respect also extends into the architectural representation of both the traditional and western houses. For instance, the peak of western influence is portrayed in both the interior and exterior components of the minister’s residence. The diplomat himself embodies the spitting image of a modernized Japanese man characterized by an impressive beard, dressed in fine western designs.
There is no doubt that ‘Kyoto Inferno’ is a captivating movie to watch. The storyline isn’t complex. The characters are simple and true to the manga. The historical aspect is represented perfectly. The fight scenes are exemplary. For a fan-oriented movie, this film pretty much outdid itself with the screenwriters and the director creating a narrative that doesn’t alienate newbies to the franchise. It is definitely worth the while.
In case you would like to watch Rurouni Kenshin movies in order, check out our guide.