One of the highlights of my 2012 was getting to see the live-action movie adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin in the big screen right here in Manila. When the news hit the masses that there was going to be a live-action movie adaptation of one the most popular and successful manga and anime series, fan anticipation spread like wildfire and everyone was abuzz when there was news that it would be released internationally. I didn’t think it was possible and even if it premiered late here in the Philippines (it was shown here last December), it was one of the best movie experiences I’ve had last 2012 (there was the Dark Knight Rises of course).
Rurouni Kenshin holds a special place in my heart since it was my favorite anime series while I was growing up. I got to see it dubbed in Tagalog, and then the Japanese version with subtitles on AXN, which eventually was dubbed in English and I got to see it again on DVDs along with the OVAs. Thanks to Rurouni Kenshin, I got my highest marks ever in Asian History back in high school because I already had enough background of feudal Japan, the Restoration period, the Boshin Wars, the Shinshengumi, etc. I was pretty excited and hyped up to say the least when I heard there was a movie adaptation and that it was coming to the Philippine shores.
It was funny because we almost didn’t get to see it in the movie house. I left work early to meet up with friends to catch the nearest screening that day. When we reached the ticket counter, a movie theater staff told us that the tickets to ALL of the screenings that day were sold out. The mall even opened a midnight screening slot due to public demand and that too was sold out. We didn’t think to reserve tickets ahead of time because we didn’t expect that A LOT of people would come see it. We felt gutted and I couldn’t get over it for a while. My childhood felt particularly punched right at that moment and I despaired, knowing that there was work tomorrow and the movie had a limited screening time so it wouldn’t be available in theaters by the next week.
But we had to sacrifice something and I decided to skip out my morning work schedule so we can watch the movie on the first screening scheduled the next morning. We reserved the tickets and we were able to watch it the following day.
So how was the movie? Well…
For those of you who don’t have any idea on what Rurouni Kenshin is about, the story (and the movie) takes place in Japan during the early days of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Our main protagonist is Kenshin Himura whose exemplary talents as a swordsman earned him a 5-year employment as hitokiri (assassin/ man slayer) at the age of 14 during the turbulent revolution. He uses an ancient style of sword fighting called the Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu and proved to be one of the deadliest killers and well-known swordsman at the time. He was dubbed as the Battousai (master of sword drawing) because of his mastery of sword drawing techniques. It was during the decisive battles of the revolution that Kenshin disappears. Ten years later, he resurfaces as a rurouni (wanderer) who’s turned from his past as a cold blooded killer and now strives to use his skills for the good and to help those in need.
To the director, producers and the whole crew and cast of the movie, ありがとうございます!
The movie was made with love, care and respect for the source material and it shows with the amount of fine detail present in the film. From the setting and cinematography that captured both the lush and bleak environment of Meiji Era Japan down to the characters—when Yahiko called with concern for Tsubame when Sano brought her in the dojo and that awesome transition how Kenshin wore that blue yutaka until he met Kaoru—agh! My fangirl heart just swelled with joy.
The whole film was fast paced, it used different perspectives, and I liked how the story stuck with the manga and how they didn’t try to cram in the whole series in this 2+ hour film. The film was able to incorporate elements from the anime and OVAs like the Boshin Wars background, Kenshin receiving his first scar and Tomoe, and still able to make a plot that could stand on it’s own while giving it a unique take on the whole Rurouni Kenshin body of work. My boyfriend who hasn’t watched or read any of the RK works was able to appreciate it immensely as someone who’s new to it. With this, I’m also glad that they kept the content of the film simple and similar as possible to the original content without complicating it that new audiences would over analyze it or be overwhelmed with the details. The fundamental details were presented clearly and I have no complaints.
What I also loved was the whole production really knew what direction they would like to take the film that it wasn’t overly dramatic or had a brooding atmosphere and it wasn’t too over the top humorous as in the anime. The crew also kept the long time fans of RK in mind that they put brilliant fan service in the film like Sano taking a snack break in a midst of a fight (which was my favorite part) and the emphasis put in that last movie scene with Kenshin and Kaoru exchanging tadaima-okaeri that my fan girl heart fluttered. If could, I would’ve kissed the screen then and there.
Another of my favorite aspects and a positive point of the film was the fight scenes. Incredible, to say the least! Before watching the movie, I was thinking how were they going to transfer the inhuman fight scenes into real life without being way over the top, but it turns out it was done so well. They toned down the aspects of the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu and Sano’s Zanbatou that wouldn’t have translated well in the big screen. I LOVE all of the fight scenes and I’m having a hard time picking a favorite. They were all so tastefully done, down to the minor details (the stances ohmy) and it just chills me. I still get shivers thinking about that epic dojo fight, that brilliant running move when Kenshin sped through the samurais in Kanryu’s mansion, Saito’s ishiki stance and Kenshin’s fight scene with Gein who used the kodachi (homage to Aoshi?).
And Takeru Satoh as the iconic Kenshin Himura… Goodness, kudos to you! He did a wonderful take on Kenshin especially the part of Kenshin’s character where he had an inner deep conflict with him self and that he is struggling overcoming his guilt and his past. This aspect of Kenshin’s character was much more fleshed out like in the OVAs compared to the anime series Kenshin. I liked that his Kenshin wasn’t the overly 2D goof we were used to in the anime. Takeru Satoh’s transition from the mild-mannered Kenshin to the furious hitokiri mode was natural. Takeru Satoh didn’t hesitate and I felt his confidence in knowing when and how to show those two aspects of Kenshin in the film’s moments and it was perfection.
Yosuke Eguchi as Saito Hajime. I’ll try not to be fan girly as possible but the whole time I was squealing to myself whenever he came on screen. They chose the perfect actor for Saito and he exuded the Saito character in every way—you can feel the sense of rivalry he has with Kenshin at the same time the respect he shows for him. The way he walks, he talks and the sense of superiority in the air and goodlord the Ishiki stance he did when he was about to attack Kanryu! I could barely hold myself there. And with Aoi Yu as Megumi, I wasn’t sure at first that she could portray Megumi well but she could hold out on her own and she was able to show that fire and inner kitsune that Megumi has. I love Kanryu in the film more than his character in the anime. Kanryu in the film was more psychotic and a true villain, while in the anime he was flat with superficial motivations. Teruyuki Kagawa’s Kanryu was a chilling, creepy megalomaniac and I liked that take better. Great job!
However there were things I would like to have been done differently in the movie and one of them is Sano’s character. I love Sano and I really liked the background between him and Kenshin that he hated Kenshin’s guts initially because of the Ishin Shishi that he was persistent in his goal of crushing Kenshin (later of course, they become friends). His motivations in the film were a bit flat for me. His character was just brought in the movie without much development. Sano in the movie had that admirable fighting spirit that fans loved for sure but what lacked was the hatred and anger behind that fighting spirit, which is an important element of Sano’s character. And I wish they could’ve used Saito’s gatotsu in circumstances that deserve it instead of just bringing the chandelier down on Kanryu. But that’s just me.
And thank goodness and I’m so glad that masked character didn’t turn out to be Hannya but Gein. If he turned out to be Hannya, I’d be so damn furious. I’m really glad that they didn’t include the Oniwaban group in this movie because it would’ve been a disaster if they tried to cram the group this early on. The Oniwaban group needs to be fleshed out more and they have the vital characters in the RK universe, especially Aoshi. At first I was excited of the possibility that Aoshi could appear in this film, but after watching the whole, I’m glad he didn’t.
All in all, I love the movie and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in 2012. If there’s going to be a second movie, I’m beyond excited because it involves my favorite arcs in the RK stories: the Kyoto arc. There is, however, a little fear in my heart that hopefully they would do it justice and try not to cram everything in one movie because the Kyoto arc is so DENSE and the characters (Shishio Makoto, the Juppongatana especially Sojiro omg) there can’t just be flat, stripped off and shafted into the movie just like that. They need extra consideration with this one and they could split it into two movies if they plan on tackling the whole Kyoto arc with all of it’s fine moments for many important characters. So if you haven’t seen it, go see it! Many times! Chaaarge!
And as a fan, I really don’t know how to describe that feeling I got while watching the Rurouni Kenshin live-action film. There’s just something about the way the fans would either laugh, gasp, cheer or go ‘awww’ all at the same time. I mean, it’s as if we all PERFECTLY understand each other. After the movie, I was in the washroom and I could hear random ladies talking that they weren’t anime fans but they enjoyed the film so much. Their kids watched it and they watched along with their kids when it was aired in the local channels. There is a bit of an otaku within all of us. I guess it’s because of despite how different each RK fan is, there’s something that brings us all together and it’s basically this humble rurouni (wanderer) who we all pretty much grew up with and inspired us in ways we couldn’t have possibly imagined.