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Rurouni Kenshin: The Final review: Japan’s action saga ends with a flourish

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Rurouni Kenshin is likely one of the hottest manga sequence on this planet. Its story begins in 1860s Japan, the place the top of the Japanese civil conflict is marking the transition from feudalism to modernism. Himura Kenshin, a legendary warrior, renounces his violent methods and wanders the land in search of atonement. But his previous catches as much as him, and he should as soon as once more use his reward of swordsmanship to assist the harmless.

Rurouni Kenshin turned a profitable anime sequence within the mid-Nineteen Nineties, and it was solely a matter of time earlier than a live-action adaptation of the saga adopted. Warner Bros. Japan backed the mission, and turned it into one in all Japan’s most generally acclaimed current franchises. The preliminary trilogy — 2012’s Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins and 2014’s Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends — is extensively accessible for digital rental. And Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, the saga’s fourth film, is now on Netflix, after opening efficiently in Japan in April 2020. So what makes this franchise so particular?

The Kenshin motion pictures stand out for a variety of causes: Their compelling tales are stuffed with endearing characters, and so they happen in a wealthy world that pulls from actual Japanese historical past. Bringing pictures from the manga to life by excellent manufacturing design and cinematography, the movies discover the appropriate steadiness between visible naturalism and moments of pure mythological surprise. They heart on an attention-grabbing protagonist, launched as an unstoppable power of conflict who needs to cease combating.

Kenshin’s arc all through the trilogy initially makes him the embodiment of Japan’s guilt and try and atone for its sins. Kenshin feels that each time he killed an adversary, he misplaced a part of his soul. So now, the previous samurai wields a “reverse-blade sword,” the Sakabatō, the place the sharp edge faces inward towards the wielder, as a substitute of outward towards his opponent. The weapon lets him use his combating expertise to guard these in want, with out ever killing once more. The Sakabatō is a necessary a part of the sequence’ mythology, working as a metaphor for Kenshin’s core dilemma. The sharp edge continuously reminds him what he’s able to, and it threatens to chop him slightly than his enemies. It’s a potent metaphor for what violence does to the individuals who select to hurt others. No surprise that when the blade is damaged in Kyoto Inferno, so is Kenshin’s will.

Kenshin charges through a room of masked and unmasked warriors in Rurouni Kenshin: The Final

Photo: Warner Bros. Japan

Kenshin is portrayed by Takeru Satoh of Kamen Rider Den-O fame, who finds in Kenshin his best position but. He provides Kenshin an unparalleled combating agility, however there’s an irresistibly candy facet to his demeanor as nicely. He’s surrounded by a massive solid of proficient actors, a few of whom ship memorable performances, particularly on the villains’ facet. Tatsuya Fujiwara, as an illustration, performs the unsettling Shishio Makoto, Kenshin’s mirror picture, who was damaged and betrayed by the Imperialist forces he helped convey to victory in the course of the civil conflict. He’s the primary antagonist of the second and third movies, and he makes for one of the crucial placing cinematic dangerous guys of all time. Burned alive, wrapped in bandages, he makes use of a serrated sword that has collected a lot human fats by years of slicing open human our bodies that it catches fireplace on the faintest spark. Just as Kenshin and the Sakabatō are one, Shishio and his blazing weapon equally signify one another.

There is a lot to be mentioned of Kenshin’s journey from guilt-ridden wanderer to the person he turns into by the ultimate act of The Legend Ends. It’s straightforward to see his story as a metaphor for Japan’s battle to return to phrases with its previous, significantly its position in World War II. Kenshin selected to surrender violence, slightly than being defeated like Japan, however his transfer to a much less warlike way of life units up a core theme for the sequence: the transition from a warrior age to a civilized one, and the whole societal reinvention that should come with it. All three movies within the authentic trilogy see the outdated attempting to catch as much as the brand new, or attempting to make it outdated once more. Kenshin can solely full his journey when he realizes that the longer term lies in remodeling the weather of the previous, slightly than eliminating or forgetting them. The live-action motion pictures by no means totally develop the story’s political dimension, nevertheless it’s there by default, in the best way the characters are written, and the way they behave relative to the federal government and one another. When they speak about standing by their beliefs and enacting change for the higher on a person degree, the private turns into political.

The sequence continuously questions whether or not violence is an inevitable a part of societal change, whether or not the methods of the previous can be utilized to guard the longer term, and the way. Those questions resonate by the action design, which pushes the boundaries of what Japanese blockbuster can supply. To direct the action, filmmaker Keishi Ōtomo entrusted a proficient stunt group lead by Takahito Ouchi, whose physique of labor notably contains the thrilling, high-octane HiGH&LOW franchise, and most significantly by action choreographer Kenji Tanigaki. The latter has been working and studying with legendary Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen because the late Nineteen Nineties, all the best way from Ballistic Kiss to Blade II, from the game-changing Flash Point to Dragon and the upcoming Raging Fire. His work will even be featured within the American G.I. Joe movie Snake Eyes, slated for launch this summer season.

Tanigaki brings his A-game to the Rurouni Kenshin saga, delivering a completely new breed of cinematic kinetics. While drawing from the century-old custom of chanbara imagery (a “calligraphic” type of action cinema outlined by bravura digital camera actions and elaborate choreographies, which began all the best way again within the Nineteen Twenties), Tanigaki pushes the envelope of how dynamic sword fights can look by extending the stream of action to each a part of the hero’s physique. Kenshin fights not solely with his blade, however with his complete being. Speed and the usage of the setting additionally play a main position in the best way these movies replace Japanese action motion pictures, pushing the actors to the bounds of what’s bodily attainable. Wires are used to amplify actions and let the movies subtly step into superhuman territory, however by no means a lot in order that it breaks the suspension of disbelief.

The digital camera work is simply as commendable, both enhancing the dynamism of the fights, or bringing an additional layer of that means to the images. When Kenshin is first launched in Origins, Tanigaki and his group match the digital camera motion to the character’s momentum, and use the enhancing to translate his energy to each a part of the movie world. They keep the course for a lot of the authentic trilogy, which is almost miraculous. The first Kenshin trilogy stays one of many best achievements of the last decade, by way of action motion pictures adapting manga. The creators clearly needed to make troublesome decisions round condensing the story and streamlining the characters, however the artistic group brings this world to the display with coronary heart and panache.

The Final, the sequence’ fourth installment, is its grand finale. A fifth film, The Beginning, is now out in Japan, nevertheless it’s a prequel, set earlier than Origins. The Final begins with a bang: In 1879, a group of law enforcement officials observe down and try and arrest a mysterious particular person with ties to the Shanghai mafia. The felony, Enishi Yukishiro, effortlessly subdues them in a present of power that establishes him as the brand new antagonist. He’s performed by Mackenyu Arata, son of the legendary film icon Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, and he brings tangible charisma to his display persona. His targeted and malignant mindset contrasts with Kenshin’s new character, extra relaxed and attempting to dwell on in a time of peace.

But peace stays a utopian best for Japan’s best swordsman. Yukishiro sends his minions after Kenshin, resulting in a main action scene earlier than the 30-minute mark. As was the case within the authentic trilogy, cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka and director Keishi Ōtomo create fantastically crafted pictures, whereas Kenji Tanigaki continues to search for new methods to shock the viewers in his choreography. This first struggle, set at night time, makes optimum use of the destructible units, and makes use of lighting to focus viewers’ eyes on the weird weapons and actions of Kenshin’s enemy.

Like the unique trilogy, The Final makes use of Kenshin’s battle to settle into a peaceable period as a mirror for the Japanese authorities’s anxiousness over the nation’s involvement in Taiwan and Korea, and the rising tensions with China. For each the character and the nation, the troubled, murky waters of the previous rise once more, placing the current’s newfound stability in jeopardy.

But in The Final, the stakes are rather more private than earlier than. After 14 years in exile, Yukishiro has returned to take revenge on Kenshin, who he noticed killing his sister Tomoe — Kenshin’s solely love — all these years in the past. The Beginning goes again to that point, specializing in how the well-known warrior received his cross-shaped facial scar, however The Final is anchored in a story of misplaced loves: the romantic connection between Kenshin and Tomoe, and the brotherly one between Enishi and his sister.

The Final spends a nice deal of time specializing in his characters and observing their sophisticated emotions for one another, notably with regard to Kenshin’s shut good friend Kamiya Kaoru, and her attraction to the previous murderer. Once once more, the actors ship formidable performances, switching between intimate scenes the place they convey their feelings by their eyes, and rip-roaring action setpieces.

Kenshin stands alone, bloodied and with his head bowed, in Rurouni Kenshin: The Final

Photo: Warner Bros. Japan

The rogues gallery is drastically enriched on this chapter, given Yukishiro’s colourful allies: a gangling murderer who makes use of scythe-like weapons, a grunting killer armed with steel claws, a Gatling gun-wielding, trigger-happy maniac. These villains and different secondary characters aren’t precisely fleshed out, however the action scenes constructed round them stand out.

Around midway by The Final, one alternate superbly embodies the Rurouni Kenshin motion pictures’ core themes. After Himura wins his struggle in opposition to one in all Yukishiro’s minions, the defeated murderer pleads for dying:

“To restore the Emperor, you stole our samurai pride. You denied us… an honorable death. So now… with those hands… give me that now! That much, you owe me.”

The transition out of feudalism that Kenshin helped full within the Japanese civil conflict appeared to have been for the better good, however like all revolutions, it was removed from cold. And it abruptly orphaned a whole warrior class that was once an integral a part of the nation’s cultural and societal material. In the method, Japan birthed its future demons: the resentment the dispossessed really feel as they’re pressured to desert their delight, their codes, and their lifestyle. This resentment has survived the passage of time, as a result of Japan’s warrior delight lives on within the nation’s cultural consciousness.

But Kenshin dismisses each his opponent and that resentment. “Live in the new age,” he solutions, laying out the saga’s stance in favor of hope and alter.

Along with beautiful pictures just like the aerial pictures of the hot-air balloons hovering over the burning streets of Tokyo, the directing group delivers an thrilling last act bursting with power and enthusiasm. The duel between Kenshin and Yukishiro is predicted, nevertheless it hits the mark kinetically in addition to emotionally.

Through the sheer ardour for cinema it exudes, The Final comes throughout as a labor of affection that proves as soon as and for all that the Rurouni Kenshin cinematic saga stands by itself, unshaded by the supply materials’s legacy. All 4 movies are on Netflix in some non-U.S. nations, and in areas the place they’re accessible, you may do a lot worse than binging the perfect Japanese action movie sequence of the final 10 years. The Beginning got here out in Japanese cinemas in June 2021, and hopefully it can be part of the remainder of the saga in digital launch quickly.

In America, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final launches on Netflix on June 18, 2021. Rurouni Kenshin: Origins is streaming on Funimation, and all three movies from the unique trilogy are extensively accessible on digital rental providers. In some territories, all 4 Kenshin motion pictures are actually on Netflix.

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