Yu AoiRurouni KenshinMunetaka AokiYosuke Eguchi
Rurouni Kenshin (2012)
Medium: film
Year: 2012
Director: Keishi Ohtomo
Original creator: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Writer: Kiyomi Fujii, Keishi Ohtomo
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Keywords: Rurouni Kenshin, historical, samurai
Actor: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Yu Aoi, Masataka Kubota, Go Ayano, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Eiji Okuda, Koji Kikkawa, Taketo Tanaka, Genki Sudo
Format: 135 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1979319/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 26 January 2018
It's the first of a trilogy of live-action Rurouni Kenshin films, with the other two being Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends (both 2014). They have a good reputation, as far as I can tell. This one certainly isn't bad, which makes it one of the better live-action anime/manga adaptations.
Personally, though, I wasn't that impressed. The cast isn't great and the film makes itself slightly pointless.
The first half-hour has the worst acting. They improve after that. Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) gets better when he's being serious and/or he's got someone to play opposite. Kaoru (Emi Takei) was only actually bad in one scene. My first reaction to Yahiko (Taketo Tanaka) had been "huh?" and disbelief, but the character's being downplayed to the point that he doesn't matter and the child actor doesn't actually do anything wrong.
Then you've got actors like Yousuke Eguchi, who's perfectly okay if you can forget the fact that he's playing Saito. (He's not scary. Eguchi is so far from anything I'd recognise as Saito that it's actually a bit embarrassing when the film tries to give him an iconic Saito moment at the end.)
This casting has the usual problem of the Japanese entertainment industry, really. Kenshin's the lead, so he has to be young and pretty. Acting? Who cares about acting? Takeru Satoh used to be a Kamen Rider, so that's good enough, right? That's particularly annoying here because Satoh looks barely out of nappies and yet Kenshin's supposed to be about thirty. That's a crucial plot point. The film keeps reminding us about it, again and again. Ten years ago, you see, Kenshin was one of Japan's most feared assassins, but today he's become a slightly goofy pacifist who's sworn never to kill again.
...and yet the film cast Satoh, who can't even be relied on to say "oro" or "de gozaru" convincingly. He's okay when he's being badass, but to me that's only half the character.
In fairness, though, Yu Aoi's pretty good as Megumi. There's some awesome swaggering in the scene where thugs invade Kaoru's dojo. Teruyuki Kagawa also manages to deliver a wholeheartedly silly performance without embarrassing himself as the villainous businessman, Takeda.
That's one of my problems with the film.
The other is some uninspired writing. Takeda is so silly that it's hard to see him as a serious threat. He does something forehead-slappingly stupid right at the beginning, because, um, he's villainous. His doctors have invented some super-opium that will make him rich. "We only need one person who knows how to make this opium!" he declaims, ordering the execution of Doctor #1 and hence putting his fortunes in the hands of Doctor #2. This comes back to bite him within about ten minutes' screentime.
The most important one, though, is that Kenshin's vow not to kill is insufficiently dramatised before it's being used as the finale's fulcrum. We don't really care whether or not Kenshin kills Super-Evil Samurai Bloke. What's all the fuss about? Let him die. Kaoru's impassioned pleas thus look a bit silly, while the fight scenes leading up to that just felt to me like Obligatory Fight Scenes. I didn't feel they really mattered.
Oh, and Megumi's introduction to the main cast is weak too. It feels like a "whoops, not enough time to do this properly" scene.
All that aside, though, the film's okay. The fight scenes are great. (That will be the most important thing for lots of people.) No CGI except for the blood sprays, so it feels like people doing it for real even when you've got near-superpowered opponents and hence slightly silly speeded-up swordplay. The design work's good. They've made a good compromise on Kenshin's hair colour.
I also like how Takeda embodies the film's theme of the old samurai era vs. Western-inspired modernity. He's a weak villain, but he can still be quite eloquent. "Look in the brothels, full of samurai wives and daughers. Every gang of thieves is made up of ex-samurai." This villain has a point. Kenshin's a samurai, after all, in an age when they're illegal. All of our heroes here are intensely Japanese, whereas Takeda's clothes and possessions are painfully Western.
Footnote: I'm not going to discuss Nobuhiro Watsuki's child pornography charges. I completely understand why his new Rurouni Kenshin manga immediately got cancelled, for instance, but I don't think that need stop me watching this film.
I wouldn't really recommend this one, to be honest. You might think it's good if you've lowered your expectations because it's a live-action anime/manga adaptation, or if you're a Rurouni Kenshin fan who's just happy to see your favourites on the big screen. In fairness, lots of people did like it. The reviews seem to be positive. I might be in a minority here. Judged as a film in its own right, though, I think it's a slightly silly samurai flick with an undercooked script, but good action scenes. I'm expecting to prefer the 2014 films, partly because the cast will have grown into their roles. It's okay, though.