While we ware (and still are) a fan of anime during the Rurouni Kenshin animated series that ran some time ago, we never really gotten fond of it that much. The combination of all-talk-and-no-fight storytelling, cliché’d obvious good guy / bad guy moments, over-the-top fighting, and the overall feel was just too whimsical and hard to root for. Kenshin, for all intents and purposes, was just too much of a cartoon character. At one point he’ll be awesome, and then two seconds later he’ll just turn into Goofy the goofball – killing the mood and suspense of the moment. But that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here – we’re talking about Rurouni Kenshin the Live Action Movie. A film adaptation that turns out to be much better than it’s source material. Why? Because it got rid of all the fantastical elements and made it feel a lot more believable.
Of course we’re all pretty much familiar with the storyline of the anime by now, and the movie doesn’t stray far off the fiction either. We’re introduced to Kenshin (known as Hitokiri Battousai / Manslayer), a survivor and feared assassin/swordsman in the last war before peace in Feudal Japan came along. Having vowed to never kill again, he’s introduced as a Rurouni (Wanderer) and carries a sakabatou (reverse blade sword) for nobody really knows what for. Unbeknownst to him, an imposter has taken his name and murdering people under the Kamiya Kashin (kendo dojo) name. Kaoru Kamiya catches Kenshin and mistakes him for the murderer which then makes for an interesting meeting.
Once proper introductions have been exchanged, it starts to get interesting. A local businessman is trying to gain control of the land Kaoru’s dojo is in, and in a big fight to defend it Kenshin is revealed to be the real Battousai – except he fights in a new non-lethal style. This gets the notice of several people and characters like Megumi, Yahiko, Sanosuke, and Saito all get introduced. After a turn of events, Megumi is forced to return to the businessman with Kenshin and Sanosuke following to the rescue – beginning the much more action-packed latter half in earnest. While it would be unethical to reveal spoilers, its safe to assume that there is more to it than that and Kenshin will end up fighting once more to save another life immediately after this one.
While most of the plot closely follows the fiction, the look and feel has definitely been tweaked for the better. Kenshin is a lot more somber – reflecting his dark past and vow to remain a quiet wanderer. Characters end up to be more believable in their convictions too, while fight moves and environments are a lot more credible. The over-the-top nature of the anime is gone, and so are the extremely bipolar happy/sad exchanges. It sticks more to the dark side, with each dead body seemingly more scarring than the previous one 3 minutes earlier. Kenshin is no longer portrayed as an emotional weakling, but rather a strong-silent type with a scarred past. To note, even the token pink yukata is now replaced with a very dull light pink one – making it look more like the old summer outfit Kaoru’s father would have really worn in Feudal Japan.
The action syncs almost lock step with the anime as well, without a lot of the cartoony flash. While most of the moves are translated well onto the big screen (and even the actors pull it off well), there is an unusual frame-rate style that you’ll notice in very high speed scenes. We believe its the effect of a slow original cut, sped up to look like it was a very fast move. It’s ends up a little off, but can also be taken as some interesting special effects. Rest assured, no wire-fu or Hollywood-style CG stuff is being pulled off here – which eventually lends to more interesting fight scenes. (We don’t want Charlie’s Angels crap, right?) One other thing we noticed is that they seem to favor wide shots and lack more close-up cuts of people talking – likely a decision based on equipment and location they were in.
Overall though, Rurouni Kenshin as a live action movie turns out to be much much better than its original animated series. Pulling off convincing personalities in much more realistic settings makes you want to care more about what happens to these characters – more than you ever did for the admittedly very over-the-top and talky anime. It almost makes us want a TV series (one is actually being planned) based on this live action version instead – as long as they get rid of those ruler “Feng Shui” boys in Season 3.
(While the movie is now off the theatres here in the Philippines, we felt it still deserved a review.)
We give Rurouni Kenshin (Live Action) a 4.5/5.