‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’ Review: Soldiering On For Redemption
Marking the fourth movie in the long-running franchise, ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’ was filmed together with the fifth and last movie in the acclaimed saga ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning’ all based on a fan favorite Japanese Manga. Production was massive with shoots taking place in 43 locations across Japan. Once more, Keishi Otomo was behind the director’s chair for this flick with Takeru Satoh returning as the lead. ‘The Final’ premiered in theatres in Japan in April 2021, just two months before the final movie. The fourth installment was also globally released on Netflix in June, with its successor following up in July.
This feature continues to explore Kenshin’s newfound way of life as he furthers his pursuit for redemption. With Shishio and his gang gone, he is now finally free and can consider settling down and finding the happiness he’s been yearning for, for years. However, not so soon as his newfound peace is quickly interrupted by a mysterious group of outlaws out for blood.
The leader of the new squad is called Woo Heishin, a crime lord, and Yukishiro Enishi’s second in command, who arrives in Tokyo supposedly from Shanghai, China. To announce his arrival, he instigates a violent incident that happens on the train that brings him to Tokyo, and he is arrested. However, he is soon set free due to a business agreement between Japan and China that offers him immunity.
However, it is revealed that Woo’s mission is to track down Kenshin and exert his boss’s revenge after the former Battosai murdered Enishi’s sister called Tomoe back in the day and the attack on his friends by the henchmen was made intentionally to draw Kenshin out. One crucial piece of information is that Tomoe was Kenshin’s only true love whom he unwillingly killed. If one has been paying close attention to Kenshin’s face, you notice that he has two evident scars on his face. Through flashbacks, we are told that one of these marks was from Tomoe’s fiancé, whom Kenshin murdered at some point and the other one was from Tomoe herself.
Enishi, played by Mackenyu Arata, is a fantastic villain. Not only is he younger, faster, and stronger, but he is also smarter and highly skilled. He is not a narcissistic maniac either seeking glorification for slaying the greatest Bottasai Japan has ever known. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t really care who sends Kenshin to his grave as long it happens. He doesn’t have a takeover ideology too, and overthrowing government, creating rebellions or ruling over anyone isn’t anywhere among his priorities. Enishi just wants Kenshin to suffer the same way he made him in the past, having to watch his family taken away one after the other with the knowledge that there was nothing, he could have done at the time to stop it.
Overall, ‘The Final’ is a loose adaptation of the original material, while the basic story structure and themes are evidently present to a larger extent, the film is another story on its own. In reference to the original manga, this arc of the story took ten volumes. The previous two moves together were 11 volumes; hence cramping all that into a single film would have been a complete waste of time, hence they had to rewrite a lot for the screenplay.
As it is the trademark of the saga, the action in this movie is top-notch, boasting expertly choreographed sequences displaying the excellent fighting skills of the two frenemies. The editing is smooth. It stitches nicely, scene after the other, cinematography, excellent quality, innovative angles, beautifully executed shots, the CGI, again minimal and nevertheless astonishing all the way to the overall direction from Keishi Otomo.
Most of the music maintains the techno vibe kind of modern tunes from the past three movies but now with an additional theme song, ‘Renegade’ by ONE OK Rock. However, the most notable aspect when it comes to the score is eliminating it from the final showdown between Kenshin and Enishi, which symbolizes the battle as a tragedy instead of a victory.
‘The Final’ however has two main flaws that are clearly evident in the movie when it comes to the storyline. For starters, the narrative explores two approaches, one narrowing into the action which is superb while the other focuses on the melodrama. The latter is just average in its presentation to the extent that it becomes irritating at some point.
Secondly, Otomo didn’t give the characters some space to unfold as most of the scenes give prevalence to the two main characters, Kenshin and Wu, which in a way makes the story a bit irrelevant when one takes out the aspect of the feud between the two.
Emi Takei, as Kaoru, seems to be struggling in a role that could have been more interesting, putting into consideration how the new revelation affects her. Yahiko is barely noticeable while Sano becomes the punching bag for the story, taking in an utterly large number of blows without collapsing, which makes him seem macho. Interestingly it is the support characters from past films such as Misao, seta, Aoshi, and even Cho who take a sizeable space on the center stage.
There is no doubt that ‘The Final’ is a visual magnet, its costumes are point on, and the overall grand-scale production is well executed and brings forth the competing forces of the Meiji era modernization and the remains of the tradition. It is an intriguing walk through crucial Japanese history sticking to the themes of honor, true love, family ties, and vengeance explored in the manga.
The best thing about ‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Final’ is that one doesn’t need to have already read the manga to enjoy this movie. Yes, there were cuts and a lot of rewriting was done obviously to fit the material into the big screen running time which might slightly disorient diehard fans of the manga as it veered almost completely from the source material its other elements still create quite the spectacle making it an absolute joy to watch.