Almost as sure as the sun rises in the east, Rurouni Kenshin fans will troop to cinemas to watch the last installment of the live action trilogy. But is it worth watching for members of the general public who were not weaned on the manga or anime?
Even without having watched the first two movies, audiences can still understand the narrative, thanks to flashbacks early in Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, which is set during the Meiji period in Japan.
Kenshin Himura (played by Takeru Satoh), also known as the former assassin Battosai, is torn between his violent past and his eternal burden of atoning for the lives he took.
The second installment of the film, Kyoto Inferno, ended with Kenshin lost at sea and feared dead at the hands of his archenemy and fellow assassin, Makoto Shishio. The fully-bandaged Shishio is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, familiar to audiences from Battle Royale and Death Note.
But, of course, our hero with the cross-shaped scar is alive, as seen in the final sequence of Kyoto Inferno.
The Legend Ends begins with the origins of the legendary samurai. The flashback shows a young boy surrounded by dead bodies on a clearing, where he is digging graves for them. A man comes along, his face partially hidden, and speaks to the boy…there is a great slow reveal of Hiko Seijuro, Kenshin Himura’s master. Their conversation establishes a theme that is taken up again and again throughout the movie. It becomes the core of Kenshin’s character development. Yes, there is a lot of soul-searching and exposition on the samurai here, but not much else on other characters in the movie.
Saito, a police officer working for the Meiji government
One thing that the previous sequel lacked is in abundance in The Legend Ends: fast-paced action sequences.
Kenshin, wounded and humiliated from his defeat at the hands of Makoto Shishio and his gang, recuperates in the woods—both physically and psychologically. He ponders his very existence, under the guidance of his master. Their relationship reminds this writer of one involving Jedi in a great Hollywood series. Their fight scenes surrounded by trees, and then, against the backdrop of a bamboo grove, are rhythmic in movements and sounds, colors and shadows. These are just some examples of precisely choreographed and well-directed fight scenes that resonate throughout the movie.
Shinomori Aoshi battles with Kenshin Himura
That being said, the highlight is the fight scene between Kenshin, Shishio, and other worthy opponents (no spoilers here), which had the audience at the premiere of the movie holding their breaths. The special effects with explosions and fire are superb.
One thing noteworthy about the movie is that it does not take all of its fight scenes too seriously. And I don’t mean they’re funny without meaning to be—just without trying too hard. These are evident in the scene when Kenshin is finally captured, as well as those involving comic relief Sanosuke Sagara who manages to keep his humor intact even as he is beaten up to a bloody mess.
There are times when the action sequences overshadow the rest of the story. Though a few lines were mentioned about the members of Shishio’s gang, these seemed to just have been thrown in to somehow give them some, albeit very little, humanity. There could have been more character development here.
As a woman, I would have really liked if Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei), could have taken up the sword herself here, as she has been seen to do in the past. Yet, she is relegated to love interest and given little screen time.
Kaoru and Kenshin Himura
Although the twist in the story is not surprising, involving members of the government, it seems very abrupt. Some parts of the story surrounding the scheming, two-faced government officials lack support—or perhaps draw too much on experiences with untrustworthy people in power?
Is it worth your time and money to see Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends during its theatrical release? I believe that whether you are a fan of the series or not, the excellent cinematography and carefully-choreographed fight scenes will keep you entertained as it brings this franchise to its fiery conclusion.
This live action adaptation of the manga is rated R-13 by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. It will open across the Philippines on September 24.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.
(To view photos of Rurouni Kenshin stars during their Manila visit, CLICK HERE)
(To learn more about the experiences of the stars while shooting this movie, CLICK HERE)