‘Rurouni Kenshin,’ also known as ‘Rurouni Kenshin: Origins,’ is the first chapter in the period action-adventure franchise Rurouni Kenshin based on the manga or Japanese comic book of the same name illustrated by Nobuhiro Watsuki. This debut installment, directed by Keishi Otomo, is a mixture of action and romance and stars Takeru Satoh and Emi Takei and zooms into the fictional events that happened during a crucial Japanese history era called the Meiji period that saw the dissolution of Japan’s feudal system of government and the restoration of the imperial system. This live-action feature hit cinemas in Japan on August 25, 2012, and a dubbed version was released in theatres in North America in August 2016.
The movie is set in 1860s Japan during the transition from the samurai to the new age. It follows the story of a lethal assassin called Kenshin Himura, played by Takeru Sato. He wanders across Japan, bearing a katana with an inverted blade that prevents him from killing to uphold his oath in an attempt to protect and defend the masses as an atonement to the hundreds of murders he committed during his days as a contract killer. Spoiler alert, his oath doesn’t last long as soon he is back on the battlefield; however, this time around, it’s for a good cause fighting on the side of justice.
His path leads him to an impoverished dojo run by Kamiya Kaoru, and the two strangers soon become friends. Soon after, a policeman called Saito Hajime, who knew Kenshin from his past, comes around his new digs investigating the assassination of his colleague who was working undercover in an attempt to expose an underground cartel manufacturing and distributing some kind of opium. He requests Kenshin’s exceptional skills in bringing down the cartel, but the former hitman turns down the request.
Hajime’s investigation soon leads him to a wealthy businessman named Taked Kanryu, a role played by Teruyuki Kagawa as the drug lord of the pills and portions being traded in the area manufactured by a woman called Megumi Takani, who is forced to produce the illegal and destructive goods. At some point, she manages to escape together with a street fighter named Sanosuke Sagara, and they both join Kenshin’s squad to help bring to book the baddies’ illegal operations.
The casting of this title was exceptional. The director hit the nail on the head pretty much with every single character being outstanding as can be. Take Takeru, for instance. This actor is the proud holder of a black belt in Shorinji Kempo, which is an excellent component of who Kenshin is as a character. Combine that with his physical attributes and his incredible talent as an actor, and the result is a masterful performance that even drew praise from the manga creator himself, Nobuhiro Watsuki, as an absolute mirror.
Yosuke Eguchi does his Saito character great justice as well as Emi Takei, who embodies the lovable Kaoru; however she many fans considered the actress to be too pretty for the role of the damsel in distress not because the character is supposed to be ugly, but rather she is expected to be plain and somewhat strongly built for your average Japanese woman as per the manga.
In order to make the title fit into the standard screen time, Otomo cut out some slapstick moments from the anime, which really did feature a lot of good, as actors could entirely focus on the action and dramatic aspects of their characters with the exception of Kanryu’s played by Teruyki Kagawa, who hyperbolically maintained his paranoid clown character from the anime. Despite the few adjustments on the screen adaptation, the filmmakers did their best to stay true to the spirit of the story by streamlining the events.
The fighting sequences are carefully choreographed, fast-paced, but as realistic as can be. The gorgeous scenes are sawn together beautifully, with the fight scene speeds marrying in nicely with the tempo of the various shots while slowing down the pace when it comes to scenes without intense action. The camera angles bestow great diversity, following the action with great expertise, highlighting both the beauty and the ugliness of the various locations and setups where the story unfolds.
Music-wise this flick veers away from the original score of the anime and instead employs a range of tunes from relatively modern ones featuring techno beats mashed up with tribal vocals to standard orchestral numbers; however, there is no sign of traditional Japanese music. While the music works, it feels out of place in some instances and appears overused at some points. For instance, during the dramatic sword fights, the techno tunes would come on repeatedly, which if one is a nitpick, they can easily notice and can be annoying to some extent.
From the story, it is evident that Kenshin is a former manslayer on a mission towards redemption. However, it would have been good to get a more detailed background into his past. The demons he carries are only brought to the fore by a flashback showing him being tortured in one of the scenes, which kind of sheds some light on how he got one of his scars, but we can’t help to wonder what made him make the dramatic switch over from a cold-blooded killer to a self-proclaimed ambassador of justice and peace. Audiences are bound to get curious about how Kenshin got his other face scar.
The scenes do not have violent or gory instances and if there is any CGI used, it’s very minimal, barely noticeable. The sword tackles are kept very practical, natural, and thrilling, making the movie a fantastic spectacle.
At the end of the day, ‘Rurouni Kenshin’ is a mind-blowing live-action adaptation that’s an excellent movie in its own right. Every single aspect of the movie ties in beautifully, making it one of the best Japanese live-action adaptations the world has ever seen.