'Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning' Review

‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ Review: A Well-Suited Finale

‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ is a Japanese live-action film directed by Keishi Otomo, the helmer of the previous movies in the fan favorite series. This flick marks the fifth and final installment in the Rurouni Kenshin saga based on graphic novels of the same name by Nobuhiro Watsuki. This fifth chapter was produced simultaneously with the fourth entry ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final,’ with shooting taking place in 43 locations across Japan. 

The feature shines the spotlight on Himura Kenshin’s past as the assassin Hitokiri Battosai during his last years of the Bakumatsu and how the former hitman got his cross shaped scar. This movie premiered in Japanese theatres on June 4 but was released globally on Netflix on July 30.

This action feature stars Takeru Satoh, who has embodied the character of Kenshin Himura since the first movie came out in 2012. Other cast members include Kasumi Arimura as Tomoe Yukishiro and Yosuke Eguchi taking on the role of Hajime Saito, among many others.

As fans of the animated version, as well as the live-action franchise, may recall, Himura used to be a contract killer and a lethal one for that matter whose name and skills transversed far and beyond. Fortunately, he eventually saw the light and downed his weapons of mass destruction after of cause logging 100 kills to his name before questioning his deed and choosing to become the character many fans know and love today.

'Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning' Review

Just as the title suggests, the story goes back to where it all began tying the series with a perfect bow and solidifies it as one of the best cinematic sagas ever made. It’s the complete deconstruction of Kenshin’s character and reconstruction into the person we have seen in the other movies. The story shows how Himura transformed into the iconic agent of death who commanded fear wherever he set foot. The narrative also explores how Kenshin met Tomoe Yukushira, highlighting how she introduced a change into his killer-for-hire lifestyle. As audiences learned from the fourth chapter, Tomoe betrays Himura at some point; however, this movie explores the why and how it all happened.

Just like its predecessors, ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ is every single thing bit of what fans would expect of a movie of its caliber and so much more. The previous films displayed Himura as a hero, sort of, but in this chapter, he is just a highly skilled professional hanging around in a rebel group in the belief that he is fighting for peace before Tomoe steps him and guides him in the right direction. Himura’s face remains expressionless, making it hard to read his internal feelings; however, the audience can quickly tell there is an intensely troubled soul behind that blank façade. 

As it is the trademark of this saga, ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ is packed to the brim with intriguing, well-choreographed, and expertly shot action sequences. And to add to this, the action is darker, more grounded, and as brutal as can get. In fact, there is so much violence in the movie that Netflix had to rate it 18+. Otomo builds the action for this one entirely differently right from the opening scene, it is faster and bloodier. Still, it’s edged towards being more conditional, narrowing down into how it inflicts emotional scars on the lead character. Those who love these kinds of movies will delightedly devour the gory scenes regardless of how long the action spans. However, those who are a bit lukewarm when it comes to action sequences might find themselves zoning off after a while, as a lot of the screen time is occupied by scenes with intense and extreme action.

The scores are expertly and intentionally placed throughout the movie, and usual action cues are missing whenever the action scenes kick in. Instead, the score is slower and more profound, leading towards something more than the physicality of the scenes. The visuals for ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ are utterly different from the previous films. The shots have a grainy look and a less vibrant color grading which is an excellent use of cinematic language to portray a distinct contrast from the other movies in the series.

At the heart of this beautiful masterpiece lies the love story between Kenshin and Tomoe, which constitutes the soul of the entire franchise. Kasumi Arimura steals the scene with her masterful performances as Tomoe with the various transformations she undergoes, especially how she manages to break the seemingly unbreakable, unemotional facade worn by Kenshin. Her character is a very vital force in driving the narrative forward. 

Though the plot is slow-moving, it is very intriguing and takes time to fill in the plot holes left behind by the previous movies. It gives a background look into how Japan used to look in the 1700s, ensuring that they got the history, the set designs, and the costumes correct as per that period. The title also tackles the fascinating ancient history of Japan and its prestigious Samurai tradition giving a crucial History lesson along its path.

This movie has many flashbacks that help shed more light and propel the story forward, however to some extent, this kind of gives away a lot, eroding the curiosity and suspense. If the flashbacks were fewer, they would have been more mysterious and exciting.

‘Rurouni Kenshin The Beginning’ is a great movie to spend time on for fans of the acclaimed series. Besides digging deeper into the character of Himura and helping audiences understand how this man came into being and why he is the way he is now. In general, it is a well-shot piece of art, extremely entertaining, that concludes the live-action series of the most iconic anime in the most impressive and genuinely fitting manner leaving audiences satisfied. However, for the newbies, it’s not a very smart cinephile idea to start with this installment as, unlike its forerunners, this latest one doesn’t work well as a standalone.

SCORE: 7/10

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