Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) is a wanderer, roaming from town to town helping people in need. He hasn’t always been so benevolent though: we learn early on that he was once a feared assassin and a hero of the revolutionary war that takes place before the events of the film. This character’s quest for redemption and his determination to protect others without resorting to killing are the major themes of the story and set it apart from many other films of the genre.
A clear sense of the melodrama often present in Japanese cinema prevails throughout, giving the characters a surreal and sometimes comedic feel: drug baron Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) and his ever present entourage of white-suited henchmen steal almost all the scenes they appear in, whether they are waving fans coquettishly in front of their faces or delivering jeering, villainous dialogue. To balance this, Takeda’s bodyguard Udo Jin’e (Koji Kikkawa) is suitably chilling as Kenshin’s polar opposite.
The fight scenes are fierce, frantic and fluid, and happen less often than one might expect. This is definitely an action film overall, but there is a mature, emotional and well-told story to follow (though at 134 minutes long and in Japanese with subtitles, it does start to feel like too much).
Kenshin comes into contact with two female characters he must protect: dojo owner Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) and doctor turned drug chemist Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi), both of whom are embroiled in Takeda’s schemes. What develops between the three is more a sense of camaraderie or even family which is a welcome departure from the usual love interest formula.
The real treat of this film is seeing numerous well-developed characters interacting equally to tell an engaging story, rather than the narrative focusing too avidly on one. The strong source material deserves due credit, as well as the director’s careful casting.
Rurouni Kenshin belongs to a seldom seen branch of breakthrough Eastern cinema and will be more recognisable to some under the title Samurai X, as it’s adapted from the successful manga comic created by Nobuhiro Watsuki. However, director Keishi Otomo has brought together a talented cast and put a lot of care into creating an authentic period feel that makes this more than just a film for fans of the comic.
Rurouni Kenshin is released in selected cinemas on 4th October 2013.
Watch the trailer for Rurouni Kenshin here: