"Its true strength lies in its ability to mix stunning action with true and relatable characters"
Starting as one of Japan’s most popular manga comics (Kenshin the Wanderer: The Romance of a Meiji Swordsman by Nobuhiro Watsuki), the story was first transferred into motion picture with the release of Rurouni Kenshin in 2012 and was met with huge enthusiasm. A commercial film that combined unparalleled speed and overwhelming action into a moving human drama, it ushered Japanese film into a brave, new era. In 2014 the second film in the franchise, Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno, was released. Now we find ourselves at the final part of the Kyoto Arc with Rurouni Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends.
Let me be frank: I was a little apprehensive about watching this. Coming from a purely Western background and with limited knowledge of manga and its epic stories, I worried about being lost in a world I did not understand. Luckily for me this is a film made for an expansive audience. Although true to its origins it is also, in its most basic form, a satisfyingly good action movie.
It opens with a beautiful expansive shot of a world torn apart. We are first shown how Kenshin meets his mentor, Seijuro Hiko (played by the brilliantly snarky Masaharu Fukuyama). Not only are we introduced to Kenshin’s beginnings, but this debut shot sets the bar for the visual prowess as a whole – quite simply, it’s stunning, so hats off to cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka.
We rejoin the film at the point where Kyoto Inferno left off. Kenshin has been left for dead and wakes up in his mentor’s home with no idea what has happened to his friends or love Kaoru (Emi Takei). Realising his task, he knows he must retrain and find his strength so he can finally defeat Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), who is storming to Tokyo in his iron clad ship to bring down the Meiji government and return Japan to chaos. Much of the film follows various small storylines within the splintered group, building up to the epic, climactic and somewhat inevitable showdown between Kenshin and Shishio.
Its true strength lies in its ability to mix stunning action with true and relatable characters -- it includes a very human element within the spectacle. A key part of this is Kenshin Himura himself, played by Takeru Sato. At the start he beautifully portrays a broken man: angry, distraught and defeated. You witness his transformation until, by the end, he is the confident, strutting, action hero that you wish for. Also worthy of note, is the director’s choice to infuse the fun and classic comic book bad-assery (is that even a word?) of Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki) and Hajime Saito (Yôsuke Eguchi). The first continues to fire burning quips toward his enemies, even in the midst of a fight to the death; the second serves as a sort of kick-ass James Dean type who only takes a cigarette out of his mouth long enough to, quite literally, cut someone down to size before he promptly relights.
If you like a great bit of action with strong characters and lots of fun (and let’s face it, who doesn’t) this is certainly one to watch.