They've done it! At last they've done it! On the third attempt, at last the Rurouni Kenshin live-action films have struck gold. I liked it. In fact, I thought it was great. Admittedly Tomoko doesn't really see much difference between this and the second film, but she's not a Kenshin fanboy like I am. She stopped halfway through the manga, although she's now thinking of picking it up again.
What they've got right, at last, is that they've remembered to put Kenshin in a Rurouni Kenshin film. For the first time, to me, it feels like him. Admittedly his goofy side is completely gone here. He doesn't even say "oro", but that's okay since Takeru Satoh can't say "oro" anyway. Besides, this isn't an "oro" film. It's a hard, bloody, violent samurai action film with one of the great movie villains in Shishio. Kenshin's got his back against the wall right from the start, picking up where the last film left off.
No, the magic ingredient is that at last they're making a big deal out of Kenshin's vow not to kill. It feels important to him. It's crucial to the story, especially since he's up against villains who kicked his arse last time and actively enjoy bloodshed.
That's all I'd needed. Nothing else had been a problem. The acting is all good enough. The casting decisions are... okay, we've been living with them for three films now, so we've come to terms with them. The action is everything you could hope for. This is a film to blow off the cinema doors, as far as a general audience is concerned.
Looking some more at the cast, Takeru Satoh does everything he's asked to do in the lead role. He's actually very good here. He can do intensity just fine. Masaharu Fukuyama is deeply satisfying as Kenshin's old mentor, while I always loved Kenichi Takito's slightly frenzied take on Shishio's second-in-command, Houji. (In that costume, he put me in mind of a Japanese Richard E. Grant.) I have no problems whatsoever with Munetaka Aoki (Sanosuke), Yusuke Iseya (Aoshi) and Yosuke Eguchi (Saito), who do solid work in their roles. The only hiccup is that Yu Aoi (Megumi) continues to wipe the floor with Emi Takei's Kaoru, to such an extent that one feels slightly surprised that Kenshin-Kaoru are still the official couple. I've realised that I don't even like Takei's voice. (Mind you, it will have helped that in Aoi the producers dared cast an actress who wasn't a babe in arms.)
I think the film's intelligently written too. It doesn't try to cram in too much from the manga and it's not afraid to take things slowly, with almost the first half just being build-up. (Kenshin trains with his old mentor, while his friends retrieve themselves from the wreckage.) Shishio is a monster, but politicians are nearly as bad.
For years now, I've been seeing fanboys overpraising this live-action trilogy. I'd been unconvinced by the first two films, but this third one lives up to the hype. It's satisfying both for a general audience and for Kenshin fans. It does cool stuff like establishing a fifteen-minute countdown to doom and then having a climactic fight that really does last fifteen minutes. (Tomoko timed it.) This one's properly good.