Rurouni Kenshin Review

Rurouni Kenshin Film Review
Type: Japanese Film
Year: 2012
My Rating: 5/5

This is my second review for the Period Drama Challenge hosted by Miss Laurie.

Period films. Martial arts. History. Epic sword duels. I’ve always loved these things since my childhood when I fell in love with the original Star Wars saga. Years later, Lord of the Rings took the coveted number #2 spot of favorite movies (not saying that SW is better; there’s just a connection I have to those classic films) with a period fantasy adventure chock full of epic battles and an emotional, riveting story of unlikely heroes. Back in 2012, I saw Rurouni Kenshin and the third place of my absolute favorites was claimed! Two more Kenshin sequels convinced me that yes, I did indeed love this samurai story of one man’s redemption and mercy. (warning – there will be lots of pictures and fangirling)

The plot follows Rurouni (wanderer) Himura Kenshin, an ex-samurai who survived the Boshin War, a civil war between the powerful shogun who technically ruled Japan and the Emperor of Japan. Despite having help from samurai to win the war, the Emperor outlawed the samurai position. 

Kaoru and Kenshin first meet!!
Ten years after the Boshin War, Kenshin crosses paths with a bold girl, Kaoru. She’s suspicious of him as he’s carrying around a sword despite the laws against bearing swords. After Kenshin protects Kaoru a few times, she invites him to stay at her dojo (martial arts training studio). But Kenshin’s dark past as the hitokiri (manslayer) Battousai continues to haunt him as the police and other evil warriors won’t let him forget his former identity. Kenshin has sworn to never return to his old ways – and carries a reverse-blade sword to honor his vow to never kill again. Can Kenshin protect his new friends and himself without becoming the powerful killer Himura Battousai?

Kenshin looking adorable

Kenshin looking moody and still adorable

this scene; so understated, so goooood
Kenshin is the soul of this film and absolutely why I love it so much. I’ve always been drawn to troubled, angsty Byronic heroes with tortured pasts (Batman, Mr. Rochester, Mr. Thorton, Wolverine, the list is quite lengthy, hehe) but what I love so much about Kenshin is that he’s not angry, silent and brooding. Oh he has those moments (particularly when his Battousai personality is taking over, more on that…) but Kenshin is primarily a man of simplicity and peace. He’s incredibly gentle and compassionate, innocent and soft-spoken. He has no problem with smiling and enjoying the simple things in life. My FAVORITE moments are the subtle actions of his – cooking food for Kaoru and Yahiko (Kenshin COOKS! He’s PERFECT!!), when he takes off his shoes before entering Kaoru’s dojo even when fighting baddies, always referring to people with respectful titles, every time he says oro (similar to huh?), not letting Kaoru get entangled with the police, bringing Kaoru her handkerchief, quietly eating his food while ignoring baddie Kanryū rudely getting in his face.

you don't want to meet Battousai in a dark alley

Which leads to the fascinating dual side to Kenshin – Battousai, his killer side. Battousai was the name he took during the Boshin War when he served as a young teenager. Even then, his dreams were of peace for the nation; he believed that the Emperor would bring an era of security for all people. But achieving that peace cost him much of his soul as he became a deadly assassin, slaughtering samurai ruthlessly as was expected of him. Battousai rarely emerges except when Kenshin is pushed to his limits; when his own strength is not enough, the lure of the powerful hitokiri is still there waiting for him to lay down his sakabatō (reverse-blade sword) and take up a blade with a sharp edge for killing.

Kaoru ready to take on the baddie

The film is full of delightful, awesome characters that I love more each time I watch it. Kaoru, the movie’s heroine, is wonderful as she sees all sides of Kenshin yet acknowledges him for who he is now not his tainted past. She is very much an echo of his conscience as she stands by morals similar to his own, inherited from her father who taught her to use the sword to give life – by protecting others – and not for death. Yahiko is one of her students and is an adorable, rowdy ten-year-old who doesn’t have a problem with stating his opinions. 

Megumi enters the film a bit later, but is a captivating character as she’s both outwardly charming and inwardly broken from Kanryū’s control and manipulation of her. 

Sanosuke with his hilariously awesome giant sword Zanbatō (an actual historical sword, lol)
I freakin’ LOVE Sanosuke, the street-fighter who’s hilariously loudmouthed, brash and crazily addicted to the thrill of dueling other warriors. No matter how grumpy he acts, I’m absolutely convinced that he’s just a teddy bear inside. 

Saito, former soldier of the Shinsengumi (a "police" unit raised by the shogun
during the Bakumatsu/Boshin War)

And I can’t forget Officer Saito! He could have his own movie with is angsty, brooding self. His relationship with Kenshin (let’s just say they don’t get along) is my FAVORITE! 

the psychotic, rich Kanryu

The villains are wonderful as well – the disgustingly powerful Kanryū who’s after wealth and control, Kanryū’s colorful bunch of warriors, and Jin-E, a twisted ex-samurai who loves the thrill of killing.

I love the look of 19th century Japan

Quality-wise, these movies have fantastic cinematography that bring this lush period of 1870s-80s of Japan to life. The costumes are wonderful and gorgeous and I seriously want a hakama (the skirt-like trousers). I can go a little crazy over costume dramas (I used to print out pictures of Padme’s dresses, glue them to cardboard and hang them on my walls as a kid, lol) and I personally find a lot of significance in just the colors and setting of a scene – from Kaoru’s white kimono, Kenshin’s maroon kimono (which belonged to Kaoru’s father), to the flashback scene of Kenshin in the rain watching the wailing samurai’s widow. 

That scene is poetic in every sense as he stands in the back under his bamboo umbrella, rain trinkling down, the colors moody and dull, Kenshin’s gaze numb as he watches the true consequences his killing brings.

behind the scenes pic of Sato Takeru at full speed
 Oh the action!! Seriously, this was what really captured me during the first time I saw the film. The intensity, power and emotion played out in every fight scene is so epic! The sword fights are really extensions of the characters and speak volumes as much as the dialogue. The movie has been praised for its amazing stylistic fighting and really credit is due to the talented Tanigaki Kenshin who worked as the action director for the film. With an impressive resume of coordinating stunts for films like the Hollywood Blade movies, Chinese films such as Bodyguards and Assassins, The Monkey King, Legend of the Fist and more, Tanigaki Kenshi delivered some of the best sword-fighting, action scenes I’ve seen in awhile (I got my brothers to watch these films and they raved over the amazing choreography in the films). There is an incredible feeling of speed that I’ve rarely found in other action films that helps build the tension and power of samurai like Kenshin, Jin-E, and others. The director Otomo decided to resist using CGI or lots of stuntmen and focused on using the actual cast in real fighting. It pays off!

one does not simply hold a sakabatō...

On a side note, the samurai love affair with their swords!! I love it so much, I can't even! Samurai, unlike action warriors, do not simply pick up a sword and start swinging it. Every single movement is intentional, from how they hold their sword to how they draw it out or sheath it.

Director Otomo on set with Sato Takeru

Each cast member worked hard to bring the manga characters to life. I totally believe that Sato Takeru was born to play Kenshin as I can’t imagine anyone else portraying him. He has a natural talent in conveying innocence and naivety as easily as he does much more intense, darker feelings. His commitment to the role is obvious not only in his acting but how dedicated he was to doing his own stunts and fighting. In his interviews, he admitted that he wanted to try and be as fast as Kenshin as humanly possible. I enjoyed watching a lot of behind the scenes videos of him running on rooftops and executing swift sword movements. It reminded me of the dedication that Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen had in training for their lightsaber duels in Revenge of the Sith. If you’ve seen any of the SW behind the scenes documentaries (hehe, yes I’m watched them all!), then you’ll know that they really are that fast with their swordplay. Another actor in the sequels (Tatsuya Fujiwara) admitted to Sato how much he respected him for doing the stunts/swordplay in all three films, after having to do the training himself for the last film. Other favorite actors are Munetaka Aoki (Sanoksuke) and Yōsuke Eguchi (Saito) who are both awesome in their roles, completely becoming their respective characters. And I can’t forget to give a shout-out for the awesome score which is fabulous; intense and exciting, it fits the movie like a glove.

you mean he's not a natural red head?
This film is based on a manga series so while the story implements a lot of real historical situations and setting, there are stylistic additions to the story, notably Kenshin’s red hair, Sanosuke’s 90’s fusion outfit, and more. However, nothing really stood out to me as “too much”, but instead made the story feel more steampunk-styled which I think works well for it.

swoon! too many feels!
I could probably go on for a long while about all the things I love about Rurouni Kenshin. But if you enjoy ANY of these things – period dramas, great characters, samurai, history epic sword fights, a heroic warrior with a troubled past, Japanese culture, beautiful cinematography/settings/costumes, great musical score – this is film that delivers!

Advisory – Rurouni Kenshin is not rated. The only objectionable content is intense violence and bloody images. Personally, I would put this film on par with the violence in The Lord of the Rings films; a very intense PG-13.


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