Yosuke EguchiTao TsuchiyaRurouni KenshinMunetaka Aoki
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final
Medium: film
Year: 2021
Writer/director: Keishi Otomo
Original creator: Nobuhiro Watsuki
Actor: Takeru Satoh, Mackenyu, Emi Takei, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Yu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya, Tao Tsuchiya, Ryosuke Miura, Takuma Otoo, Shingo Tsurumi, Takeo Nakahara, Riku Onishi, Shinnosuke Abe, Shuntaro Yanagi, Joey Iwanaga, Eiki Narita
Keywords: Rurouni Kenshin, historical, samurai
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 138 minutes
Url: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11809034/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 15 December 2022
rurouni kenshin films 4 and 5
It's the fourth of the five instalments in Keishi Otomo's Rurouni Kenshin live-action film series. The first came out in 2012 and the next two in 2014, so that's a long gap. Otomo actually shot the 4th and 5th films in 2018-19, but COVID-19 delayed them.
Anyway, it's quite good. It's certainly far better than you'd expect from the fourth instalment of a film series. If you're considering watching this, I'd suggest not reading any further and just watching the films with no further information. Don't worry, you'll enjoy them. This one's a glossy, big-budget action spectacle that would stand up just fine alongside Hollywood blockbusters. The period recreation is lovely, the cast are taking it seriously and the fight scenes are exploding with energy. The strongest of these fighters are borderline superhuman, so they're capable of taking down walls and turning train carriages to matchwood as they go at each other.
As for the plot, it's roughly covering the third and final arc of Nobuhiro Watsuki's original manga. (This film adapts the contemporary sections, while the 5th film adapts the Tomoe flashback story that was previously done as a four-episode anime OVA, Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal.) They've simplified the plot and brought back lots of characters from the earlier films. This is fine. Despite the altered storyline, they're hitting the main emotional points and the film's essence feels true to the original's.
The film only has two problems, really:
(a) the fights are great, but they start so explosively that by the end the film's got nowhere left to escalate. The one-on-one fights I enjoyed. The group fights with lots and lots of people dragged on a bit. The big Enishi-Kenshin fight at the end is mandatory, yes, but it goes on too long.
(b) Tomoe barely registers, which is outrageous given her story importance. She's dead, yes, but there's still that flashback sequence... but it conveys almost nothing about her as a person. She's a human-shaped plot device. That said, though, she's about to get the entire 5th film to herself, so I should reserve judgement until I've watched that.
Takeru Satoh isn't a pretty boy any more, but instead a man in his thirties who used to be one. This is good, since it's brought him up to date with Kenshin's age in the manga and makes the dates work. It's been fourteen years since Enishi last met Kenshin. Since Satoh was 32 years old in 2021 (handwaving the shooting dates), he'd have been 18 years old when his character was killing half of Kyoto as the Battousai and marrying Tomoe. I could almost imagine delaying this film until 2021 just to make the characters' ages line up. (Mind you, you'd also want to shoot the 5th film early and put it in a vault for fourteen years, plus of course they've recast Yahiko to ensure that he's still a child.)
Munetaka Aoki doesn't feel genuinely rough to me as Sanosuke, but I suppose that fits too. He's been hanging out with Kenshin for years by now, after all.
I enjoyed it. It's a pretty good finale. (The final film isn't the finale, of course, because it's a flashback film called The Beginning.) It's a looser adaptation than the earlier films in this series, but it's definitely among the better live-action manga/anime adaptations I've seen from Japan. I'm a fan of both the 1990s anime series and the original manga. This stands up fine next to them.