‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends’ picks up from where the second movie stops; hence it’s a direct sequel to the second chapter ‘Rurouni Kenshin: Tokyo Inferno.’ Keishi Otomo returns to helm the prequel in the live-action series based on a fan favorite Japanese manga. This action flick was released in Japanese theatres in September 2014, just a month after the second entry debuted. A subtitled version arrived in the United States in October 2016 with a video on demand version hot on its heels.
After his efforts to bring the book his predecessor from his Bottasai days Makoto Shishio coupled with the failure to save the love of his life, Kaoru Kamiya, Kenshin washes up on the shore unconscious. Out of pure luck or simply fate, his sword-fighting sensei from back in the day Saijuro, played by Masaharu Fukuyama, is the one who finds him and tends to him until he makes a full recovery.
As Kenshin regains his strength and health, bad guy Shishio advances to Tokyo, terrorizing the villagers he finds on the way. As we’ve learned from the first two movies, Kenshin now can’t stand seeing innocent and helpless people being troubled by some sword-bearing bullies. And from his encounter with Shishio, Kenshin knows he will need more than his current set of skills to bring this terrorist down. The first forty minutes of the movie are languid for a fully-fledged action flick as most of it follows Kenshin as he learns from his master the ultimate technique of a unique style of swordsmanship.
During the new training, still abiding by his oath against violence, Kenshin holds back a lot during the fights and is afraid of setting free the compressed demons of his past. Saijuro notices how rusty his best student has become and urges him to find his inner peace to move forward.
Meanwhile, Shishio gets the wind that Kenshin is alive and well and pressures the government to publicly execute Kenshin for his past crimes if they want peace to reign once more.
Though flashbacks give an insight into why the characters are the way they are in their current conditions, this flick uses one too many, which to some extent, for someone who has already seen the films, can become irritating. However, it does serve the newcomers though. One notable aspect of this flick is the use of monologue to convey Kenshin’s thoughts. This helps the audience understand his mindset better.
Just like in movie number two, character introductions are barely done, with the expectation that the audience has already watched the previous Rurouni Kenshin installments or have at least read the manga. However, one can’t help to feel like some already existing characters such as Emi Takei, who was a crucial element in the previous movies, has been tossed to the side, Megumi Takani appears temporarily, a feature that doesn’t add much to the story, the character of Kenshin’s nemesis Aoshi Shinomori also feels undercooked. All this could have been a result of having to cramp so much material into limited screen time.
The Kenshin tension we saw in the last chapter is, of course, absent here thanks to the intense training the hero receives from his former sensei, which peels the mask off Kenshin’s character-revealing another side of himself that goes deeper psychologically.
One thing is for sure in regard to Kenshin, due to his troubled past, he doesn’t feel like he is worthy of continuing living. He wouldn’t kill himself, of course, but he wants to get rid of one enemy threatening the same peace he has vowed to help maintain so he must stay alive for that. But then he needs to want to live, a virtue that enables him to flip over a new chapter beyond the demons of his past to have the strength to defeat Shishio. With this new version of Kenshin, is now strong-willed, and doesn’t view his vow not to spill blood as a way to escape his past anymore but as his new way of life.
Another narrative element that helps Kenshin in his final battle is that we learn that due to Shishio’s inability to sweat if audiences remember from the last movie, he appeared bandaged up, he can’t fight for more than fifteen minutes, something that definitely keeps fans and newbies alike at the edge of their seats. Spoiler alert, this is what helps Kenshin defeat this heartless nasty.
The last scene where Kenshin sends Shishio to his grave is one to behold. Though this movie uses more CGI than the others, it is not overdone and flows seemingly naturally, so it is fascinating to watch. The swiftly paced action shots are a clear indication of the extraordinary talent employed in camera work, editing and direction. The fight techniques are very inventive, Kenshin’s acrobatics are on fleek and the use of slow-motion elements adds value to the action enabling the audience to completely devour the action to great satisfaction.
In fact, while chapter two excels in epic action sequences, part three wows with its choreography, especially its final scene of pure action which nearly covers the last third of the movie.
Costume and cultural references in this series are superb. In this particular one, the design of the ship is excellent. It is awe-inspiring how the costume designers crafted beat-up versions of the costumes for a grittier feel that portrays the damage the characters are going through.
‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends’ is a great action spectacle, just like the first three movies. It might not be as rich in history as its predecessor, but it still stays embedded in the early Meiji period. It pays great attention to the finer details for the narrative, which were established in ‘Kyoto Inferno.’
As it is usual, this saga is predominantly targeted at the die-hard fans of the manga, and whereas one doesn’t need previous knowledge of the source material, one does need to at least have watched chapter two before proceeding with the third entry as the events are directly linked.