We’re introducing a new feature ‘Around the World in 80 Films’, where our writers will be reviewing films from around the globe. They’ll be giving us their take on films from a variety of different genres, and reviewing either recent releases or classics that they think you should definitely be watching. In our first instalment, Judith reviews the first foreign film she’d ever seen, the brilliant Japanese film, Rurouni Kenshin.
As a fan of the existing manga series since my childhood, when news to produce a live-action film of Rurouni Kenshin was released, I was ecstatic, but also sceptical due to the several failed attempts previously done to recreate various much-loved series into live-action films. However, this film proved otherwise.
Rurouni Kenshin takes place towards the end of the Edo period and the start of the Meiji Era. It centres on the main protagonist, Himura Kenshin, previously known as Hitokiri Battousai (Man-slayer). The UK trailer showcases Kenshin and his skills in all his glory, and lays out the plot of the film without revealing too much. It focuses mainly on the various main characters, providing a teaser to those who recognise them like a sword-wielding dog biscuit.
The film itself is a feast for the eyes. It’s filled with fast paced action scenes, interjected with very minor bits of slow motion, accompanied with a pumping soundtrack that is sure to keep you watching through to the end. The actors themselves do an excellent job at portraying the iconic manga characters, although not perfectly, but seemingly bring them to real life on the screen. There is also a feel of authenticity in how the characters were portrayed physically as most of them were constantly covered in dirt and sweat, something not usually seen in Hollywood blockbusters. An interesting thing to note, which I found simply amazing and admirable, is that the actors themselves did most of the stunts and fight sequences.
However, as well made as the film adaptation seems to be, it is 135 minutes long, and feels as if it’s been packed full with various bits of information, which may be overwhelming to the unfamiliar viewer. Some scenes seemed irrelevant and dragged on, and there were some cheesy moments; the main villain has his own cheeky theme song which may or may not make you cringe and laugh at the same time. The excess of characters introduced, too, doesn’t allow for much character development, especially in the eyes of non-fans.
The plot of the film is simple enough to follow, even for those not familiar with the series or its characters: A wandering swordsman living a different life from his manslaying days, meets new friends that he’s willing to lay down his life for, almost single-handedly fights hordes of other samurai with ‘bad-assery’ and ends the film with a final boss fight.
All in all, the main attraction of the film is more of its spectacle and near-accurate depictions of ancient Japan, as well as its fan service to the series’ steadfast followers. From my experience, the best way to enjoy this film is to watch it without any expectations, and to suspend all judgements until the end. To top it all off, the ending theme song, The Beginning, by Japanese rock band ONE OK ROCK, has English words (with surprisingly high accuracy), and an extremely catchy chorus. Ohtomo Keishi has done a brilliant job in bringing to life one of the most popular manga series in the world, and I look forward to watching the next two films of the trilogy.