Recently I re-watched the Rurouni Kenshin movie trilogy and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time I watched it. That’s why I wanted to help spread the love for this trilogy, in the hope that if there are people who still haven't seen the films, they will decide to do so now.
First things first, let’s talk a little bit about the background. Rurouni Kenshin is a 28 volume manga, published from 1994 to 1999. Then came the anime with 95 episodes (1996-1998), since the anime ended before the manga, the last two arcs from the anime are an original storyline. Therefore the manga’s last arc wasn’t included in the anime version. There are also two OVA’s, but I found them kind of dark and disconnected from the anime style. Then in 2012 the first live action movie was made, and in 2014 the second and third movies were released.
The story is about a samurai, Himura Kenshin, who after participating in the Bakumatsu war as the famous “Hitokiri Battousai” ('Hitokiri' literally translated as “cutting people” means 'assassin' and 'Battousai' comes from one of the techniques he uses with his sword) decides to stop being an assassin and swears not to kill anymore, therefore he starts wandering around Japan in order to help people in suffering using a sword with a special blade that does not cut. During his travels, he meets Kamiya Kaoru, a teacher at a dojo, and helps her deal with some thugs that are bothering her. Because of this Kaoru finds out who Kenshin used to be, but she still asks him to live in the dojo as he has no other place to stay. This is the beginning of their journey, they will make more comrades along the way, who will help them with the challenges they’ll have to face.
There are many characters involved in the movies, but I could not write about everyone, so I’ll mention the main ones and the ones that left a strong impression on me:
First of all, I think casting Sato Takeru as Kenshin was a great decision, he fits really well into the character. He has the looks and also the attitude that is needed to act as Kenshin. He did a great job in his actions scenes and performed very well. Sato is an actor who invests lots of time in preparing a character, and when watching the movies, you can tell he rehearse a lot for it.
Eguchi Yosuke as Hajime Saito was also spot on; he resembled the anime character greatly, especially when smoking a cigarette. I really appreciate that they put a lot of attention on those small details; it helped for a better characterization.
Fujiwara Tatsuya as Makoto Shishio surprised me as I didn’t recognise him at all until I saw the movie credits. I have to admit that all the bandages and makeup were not exactly what I was expecting, but when you get used to them you can fully enjoy Fujiwara’s performance. He is the villain of the last 2 movies and pretty much Kenshin’s nemesis. He fits into these kinds of evil characters the best and I hope he acts in more dramas in the future.
Kamiki Ryunosuke as Soujiro Seta was a match made in heaven. I saw Kamiki talking about this role on a TV program, and he said even before he was offered the part he already started rehearsing for it. He and Sato are very good friends, so he called Sato and showed him what he had already practised for Soujiro Seta. Months later he was offered the part, and he gladly took it. He resembles the character a lot and even though in the movies we didn't see Soujiro’s back story, he did what he could to show his breaking point when fighting Kenshin.
This was my first time seeing Takei Emi’s acting and I think she did a good job but I felt something was missing with her character. I think she needed a little more strength; as Kaoru was a strong independent woman.
There is also Aoki Munetaka as Sanosuke Sagara and Tanaka Taketo as Yahiko Myojin, these are new actors for me. Tanaka’s role wasn’t very big in the movies and he was no more than a side character, but I think he did what he had to. On the other hand, Aoki gave us the energy and hyperactivity his role needed. (I don’t know if anyone will agree with me, but I think Aoki Munetaka and Nagase Tomoya look very much alike, and I think Nagase could have acted as Sanosuke just as well.)
I had problems with Iseya Yusuke’s Aoshi Shinomori, I didn’t like him very much as I think he didn’t fit the part and also the character wasn’t well developed. This is one of the weakest links of the movies.
This is the first movie of the trilogy and it kind of works like an introduction for all the main characters. In this movie, there are no main bad guys and it may seem a little disconnected with the presentation of the characters, especially Sanosuke, but I’m not so critical with this because they had to introduce Kenshin’s “gang” and it was a little difficult to include all their background stories.
Overall it’s a good movie with good action scenes and it covers pretty much the 1st arc of the manga. Where Kaoru, Yahiko, Sanosuke, Megumi and Saito are introduced, there are 2 main bad guys who help develop the plot and the action.
The second and third movies cover the 2nd arc of the manga and introduce other characters, though the most important are:
Makoto Shishio, the antagonist of the story, a samurai who, like Kenshin, worked as an assassin on the Bakumatsu. He was Battousai’s successor, but he was a cold hearted and cruel assassin. After being betrayed by the same government he was employed by, he decides to seek revenge and put an end to the new era.
Soujiro Seta, one of Shishio’s henchmen, is his right hand and follows Shishio blindly. He believes that “the strongest survives and the weakest dies” a philosophy Shishio taught him.
Shinomori Aoshi, the leader of a vanished group of secret agents (ninjas) who seeks Kenshin in order to fight with him and claim the title of “the strongest”.
Misao Makimachi, who also belongs to the group of secret agents, is the high-spirited character that helps Kenshin in his trip to Kyoto.
Basically, the outline of the story is Kenshin travelling to Kyoto in order to defeat Shishio, but to do so he has to leave important people behind. Whether those important people decide to stay or follow him is their own decision. Along the way, Kenshin will find more allies but will also have to face Shishio’s henchmen. This may be the last assignment, as a samurai, for Kenshin but he will accept the challenge in order to protect everything he holds dear.
The trilogy, in my opinion, is very well made and the story is well adapted considering the time constraints for each movie. It’s a shame they didn’t make a fourth movie with the last manga’s arc because it is one of the most powerful arcs in the story and also tells us about Battousai’s past history.
If you have read the manga or watched the anime, I highly recommend you watch the movies, as they are very well made, the overall casting is top grade and there’s lots of action going on. If you have no idea about this story but you like action movies, samurai or period films, just give it a chance and you will not regret it.