This is it. The movie that anime fans have been waiting for since it was announced that Warner Bros was working with Japanese filmmakers to bring the beloved show to the big screen. The live-action Rurouni Kenshin movie is finally showing in the Philippines.
This is a long time coming. The movie premiered in Japan on the 25th of August this year. SM Cinemas, after preliminary talks with Warner Bros and whoever helmed the project in Japan, announced that it will be released in the Philippines on October 17. But the 17th came and went with no screening. After that, SM Cinemas sheepishly announced that the negotiations were in a rut and the screening won’t be until December, with no word on what language the subtitles are gonna be, or if it was gonna be dubbed.
And now I am here to tell you this: there is no need to worry. The movie is relatively intact, and the subtitles are in English with the original Japanese audio still in place. Happy?
I had a few problems with the subtitles though. Of course, there’s the fact that it’s hard to focus on the awesome fight scenes (more on that later) when you have to read subtitles. Aside from that, it seems apparent that whoever wrote the subtitles didn’t watch the original anime with the original subs. Kenshin’s “reverse-blade” or “reverse-edged” sword was referred to as a “back-blade” for example, which was infuriating. Also, in the anime, the English subs kept a few Japanese words intact like kendo or the Hiten Mitsurugi style. In the movie though, everything was translated to English, so Kaoru kept talking about ‘fencing’ and not kendo, which kinda made it sound lame, and Kenshin’s technique was called High Heaven or something.
Aside from that though, everything else is authentic. The film’s ambience is commendable since, while watching the movie, you really do feel like you’re in the Meiji Restoration era. The costumes of the extras looked authentic, the setting felt real, and the blood–wow. The main cast’s costumes too, those are awesome. I’m telling you, when Kenshin first put on that purple (is that purple?) and white robe he’s so famously associated with, people in the cinema started clapping.
In terms of the story arc, don’t worry about spoilers–there are no surprises there. It’s basically a mish-mash of the story arcs of the anime’s first fifty episodes, and the overarching story arc is that of Kanryu Takeda and his opium business. The other story arcs that can be found in the film are the whole rivalry with Hajime Saito, the appearance of the Oniwabanshu, the whole Megumi thing (which is expected since Kanryu is in the movie, that fake Battōsai, and the other hitokiri from the Bakumatsu years, Jin-e Udo. Despite the sheer number of story arcs, the movie works. Kudos to the writers.
So now, since this is an adaptation of the anime and the manga, let’s compare ’em. And the way to do that is by looking at the characters.
Takeru Sato, the dude who plays Kenshin Himura in the film, does a really good job. I had my doubts with the other characters in the movie at the start, but Sato built a solid character even from the opening scenes. What’s more, he can transition easily from Kenshin’s playful, kind, and smiling face to the I-will-kill-you-in-you-sleep Battōsai gaze, just like in the anime. And his reverse-blade sword is awesome too.
What I also liked about how Kenshin Himura is portrayed in the movie is that all of his techniques remain intact and are used in the fight scenes, just like in the anime. I don’t know what they’re called but I really liked, for example, the technique where he runs up a wall and somersaults back down while swinging his sword. Or the one where he feints with his sword then follows up with his sheath to break the attacker’s elbow. Awesome.
Like I said above, I had doubts at first regarding the other characters. Emi Takei didn’t look at all like how I’d imagined Kaoru would look like in real life. But as the movie went on, she became more and more like the Kaoru we know and love. I think what solidified her image in my mind was when she started bossing Kenshin around, in an adorable way of course. Also, the jealousy on her face when Megumi started flirting with Kenshin. It was precious. Just like in the anime.
I didn’t like, though, that she wasn’t given space to shine in the movie. That was unfortunate. The Kaoru of the manga and anime was feisty as hell and wouldn’t back out of a fight, no matter what Kenshin said. It was different in the movie, but it did help the plot along in a way.
In the anime, Kanryu Takeda was the slimy industrialist who forced Megumi to make opium for him so he could use the profit from that to illegally import guns from the West. He’s the same guy in the movie, only much more slimy and easy to hate. In the movie, Teruyuki Kagawa plays him to the hilt, and you just can’t help but get this urge to strangle him on site. He wears Western clothes, has tons of helpers in his mansion, and is seriously effeminate. Also, his hair looks like a bad ripoff of Professor Snape’s.
And, like in the anime, he uses a huge Gatling gun to kill his enemies. Unlike in the anime though, the Oniwabanshu isn’t gonna be there to destroy the gun (and die) for Kenshin.
Munetaka Aoki is a small guy, so when I first saw the trailer I thought come on, Sano has to be tall and cocky and lanky. But, short stature aside, Aoki did make for a great Sanosuke. Not only did he have the iconic costume down pat, he also has that brazen cockiness that we have come to love regarding Sanosuke. I think the best part of the movie was when, in the middle of a climactic fight with a member of Kanryu’s personal guard, Sano stops because he’s hungry and picks up a whole fried chicken. He even gives some to his opponent. If that isn’t authentic Sano, then I don’t know what is.
Also, he has his Zanbatō.
Like in the anime, the Hajime Saito in the movie is dapper as hell. His hair didn’t move one bit even during a fight scene in a thunderstorm, and his police uniform stayed crisp and clean throughout the whole movie, even after charging a freaking Gatling gun.
Saito doesn’t get much airtime in the movie except for three scenes, but he did make himself very memorable: the first was a flashback of the wars between the Emperor’s forces and the Shogun’s, when Kenshin and Saito were on opposite sides; the second was the aforementioned thunderstorm fight scene with Kenshin wherein Saito mocks Kenshin’s pacific ways; and the third is the scene at Kanryu’s house with the Gatling gun. See, he shows up where he’s most needed and makes everything more awesome.
And his iconic Gatotsu style? Yeah, that’s in the movie.
At first, I didn’t like the look of the actress that played Megumi in the movie. The actress seemed a bit uptight in her portrayal, her face was too round, and she looked too young for the role. Most of those complaints disappeared when she started flirting with Kenshin and infuriating Kaoru. I’m telling you, the chemistry and rapport that these three characters have–which is very important in the anime–translated well into the film. She doesn’t really get much airtime because, let’s face it, she always gets kidnapped even in the anime.
Jin-e is this psychotic former hitokiri from the Bakumatsu era who’s become a cold-blooded killer in the more peaceful Meiji era. In the movie, he takes on several roles, just to make him the main antagonist. In the anime, there was a story arc wherein someone pretended to be the Battousai, there was another story arc concerning the Oniwaban who worked for Kanryu, and then there’s Jin-e story arc where he wants to fight Kenshin. The Jin-e of the movie is all three. He works for Kanryu while terrorizing Japan by killing people and calling himself the Battousai. The main conflict of the film is when he kidnaps Kaoru and forces Kenshin to fight his as the Battousai by using his sword-spirit technique to stop Kaoru’s lungs, just like in the anime.
I really love the dude who played Jin-e, Kôji Kikkawa. He plays the role so well. When he’s in the limelight, you can just see the psychopathic killing machine in his eyes, the lust for blood. It was awesome–his performance really made my skin crawl. And oh my gawd that fight scene between him and Kenshin–wow….just, wow.
You can see that I really liked the film, albeit a few complaints. And I did, I really did. I can’t wait for it to be released on DVD so I’d have a copy of it and can watch it anytime. Word is, the DVD of the movie will be released on the 26th of December, but there’s no news on whether that would be subbed in English. I guess all we have to do now is wait.
And just to give you a peek at how awesome Kenshin’s fight scenes in this movie are: