BY Gina Tumlos
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends is the final installation for the Kyoto arc, and boy, what an ending it is. Those familiar with the anime will be pleased to see the appearance of a beloved character and hints of character back stories (which could *hopefully* mean a prequel) and those who were hooked just recently on Rurouni Kenshin and Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno will be floored by the intense and deftly choreographed fight scenes this film is littered with.
The theme of death permeates heavily into many of the scenes, beginning with the very first shot of a young Kenshin Himura, then called Shinto, digging graves for his village and presumably, for his family. There he meets his master, Hiko (Masaharu Fukuyama), who takes him under his wing, and as the viewers will later on see, will test the adult Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) to his limits again until the wandering samurai finally discovers what he needs to defeat his nemesis Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara).
The first hour of the movie moves slow, too slow in fact, with a lot of dialogue between Kenshin and Hiko and far too many flashbacks from Kyoto Inferno. Had the two been spaced evenly, then perhaps this would not have been too much of a distraction; instead, the flashbacks feel like a waste of precious time which could have been used to showcase more of the film’s excellent sword fights. The pace picks up when Kenshin encounters Aoshi (Yusuke Iseya), with the latter hellbent on unleashing his decade-long hatred for Kenshin. The scene lasts for about seven minutes, but the movements of the actors are so quick it’s almost hard to keep track of who’s striking who. Kenshin’s back-bending backstep, perhaps the most brilliant move in the entire film, elicits the first genuine collective audience gasp.
Though The Legend Ends is not entirely faithful to the source material, memorable scenes from the anime (i.e. the one-on-one between Sano and Anji, Saitoh and Usui Uonoma, Yumi stepping in during the final battle and then BAM!) and important plot points are kept intact. What keeps the film together is Kenshin’s singular goal to see to it that Shishio is stopped. All the major players from the first two films return for the final battle scene which is set in Shishio’s ship. It is here that Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki) shines once again. For all his bravado and loudness, this guy can literally pack a punch and take on just about anybody. Bloodied and bruised, he charges on and on as if his body does not register pain. He gets his scene with Anji, which, admittedly, was a bit of a disappointment, but only because their original back story was so well-developed and would have been a great story to tell.
Saito also gets his fair share of screen time and respect. His perpetual scowl and his signature cigarette make him such a daunting character to play and Yôsuke Eguchi takes him on with just the right amount of deference and intensity. The world stops in the three seconds it takes for Saito to get into position for his left-handed Gatotsu thrust. There’s no surviving that once that locks in.
All hell breaks loose on the ship as the ultimate battle takes place. Director Keishi Otomo’s earlier gamble pays off at last as the next 40 minutes of the film is nothing short of epic. The boat rocks, characters rush in and rush out of the scene, Hoji’s madness takes a hold of him, and the swish and clang and the song of samurai swords provide the only soundtrack the movie needs. This fight scene more than made up for the stumbles of the first half of the movie and went beyond all imaginable expectations. No movie in recent memory can match the complicity and high-speed choreography The Legend Ends has.
Overall, the Rurouni Kenshin franchise managed to pull off one of the best anime-to-live action adaptations in cinema history. Otomo took just enough creative license to make the series work onscreen without compromising its essence. The series makes a good study of what great pre-production, production, and post-production management looks like, and should there be any more Rurouni Kenshin movies in the future, hopefully the same cast and crew will be on board.
All photos are courtesy of Warner Bros.