RUROUNI KENSHIN: The Live Action Movie - - Advanced Review

Topic started by No_name_here on Nov. 17, 2012. Last post by Kurohige 1 year, 8 months ago.
Post by No_name_here (856 posts) See mini bio Level 11
Staff

Fourteen hours is a long time to be stuck on a plane. So, imagine my nerdgasm when I saw, listed among the film choices on my seat's little screen, RUROUNI KENSHIN (2012). Sure, WOLF CHILDREN was listed too, but... seriously man, KENSHIN wins by a mile, right?

Ehhh...

QUICK DISCLAIMER: It’s been almost 15 years since I watched the original KENSHIN series and I never finished the manga (it was releasing during my “sabbatical” ). The TRUST AND BETRAYAL OVA's are still some of my favorites to go back to, but the series itself is a bit hazy for me. As such, I’m only partially judging the film as an adaptation. Mostly, I went in hoping to see if it could be what every adaptation promises to be - - something accessible to newcomers and a joy for superfans.

One of the (terribly few) highlights of the film - - Takeru Sato as Kenshin.
One of the (terribly few) highlights of the film - - Takeru Sato as Kenshin.

A recap for those newcomers - - RUROUNI KENSHIN is the story of Kenshin Himura, a legendary assassin during the Meiji Revolution who, at the end of the war, swore never to kill again. In the decade since he’s traveled Japan as a rurouni/wanderer. Armed only with a reverse-blade sword, he does good where he can and keeps his head down, trying to put the past behind him.

Of course, if that worked, there wouldn’t be much of a series, would there?

Kenshin arrives in Tokyo amid a heated controversy. The legendary "Hitokiri Battousai" has been murdering people in the city with reckless abandon! Problem is, he is the Battousai, and he only just got there. Plus, you know, he isn’t killing people anymore (and only ever killed those who had to die to usher in an era of peace). So Kenshin gets sucked into the mystery and finds something new to protect in the form of Kaoru Kamiya and her dojo.

Another highlight - - Kaoru accusing Kenshin of shaming her dojo. Unfortunately, this great scene gives way to one of the biggest plot holes in the movie.
Another highlight - - Kaoru accusing Kenshin of shaming her dojo. Unfortunately, this great scene gives way to one of the biggest plot holes in the movie.

The film adapts the first few episodes/chapters of the series, introducing the likes of Yahiko Myojin, Sanosuke Sagara, Saito Hajime (a bit earlier here than other versions) and Megumi Takani, while also marking out both Jin-e, a former assassin himself with a lust for blood, and Kanryu Takeda, an opium magnate (guarded by a somewhat neutered version of the Oniwabanshu, a group of former samurai now working as bodyguards and enforcers) as the main antagonists.

This is the part of the review where I’d normally summarize the first act and then start sharing my more detailed thoughts on where it worked and what might have faltered. Thing is, to summarize the film is an act of self-flagellation that I’m not interested in.

While many of the character were played shockingly straight compared to the source material, Kanryu was hilariously overwritten and over-acted. Awful stuff.
While many of the character were played shockingly straight compared to the source material, Kanryu was hilariously overwritten and over-acted. Awful stuff.

Events in this movie made very little sense from a narrative perspective. It felt like the screenwriters picked bits and pieces of the source material, sussed out a few fight scenes, and then tried to string it all together.

It... doesn’t work.

You can’t go more than twenty minutes without somebody blowing Kenshin’s cover; either by recognizing his cross-shaped scar, overhearing a “private” conversation of his, or watching him step in to protect someone. It gets played very quickly in a single, long-format film. In the anime and manga, this is the sort of thing that would drive a standalone chapter, and it worked better in that format (even if it was a bit repetitive).

Should've saved Saito for the sequel, guys.
Should've saved Saito for the sequel, guys.

Then there’s the problem of Jin-e, who just sort-of drifts in and out of the movie. He’s part of the Oniwabanshu here (who go unnamed in the film), but sort-of does his own thing, mowing down undercover police officers, random people on the street, and anybody else he feels like killing. Whether it serves his, his bosses' or the screenwriters’ agenda makes no difference. He does this while posing as the Hitokiri Battousai, claiming to represent the Kamiya dojo (Kaoru’s father’s school, which she inherited) - - yet, unless I missed something, he only has a peripheral connection to Kenshin and none at all to the Kamiya dojo.

His actions also incite a hunt for him led by a criminally underutilized Saito Hajime. At a certain point it was almost like the screenwriters panicked and just wanted to shove everyone they could justify into this movie.

Decent fight scene for Kenshin and Jin-e. Too bad there was no good story-based reason for it to happen.
Decent fight scene for Kenshin and Jin-e. Too bad there was no good story-based reason for it to happen.

In the series, this particular conflict was between Kenshin and Gohei Hiruma, a former student of Kaoru’s father. It made sense that he’d be connected to the school since he fought in that style and had designs to take over the dojo. In the film, his character is merged with Jin-e - - likely to save time and streamline the story. Because of that, there's no connection between him and the dojo (since he was no longer a former student), so Kaoru’s hunt for the Battousai, and Jin-e’s claim to represent the school, make zero sense.

Ditto for adding Jin-e to the Oniwabanshu, the group working for Kanryu. Sure, it streamlines the story, but he’s neither their leader nor an active member, really. He inexplicably shares some scenes with them, goes to do his own thing, and then disappears for almost the entire back half of the movie, only to show up at the end for a surprise double-climax that falls flat.

All of this is nitpicking compared to the larger faults of the film, which suffers from a massive identity crisis. Is it a cartoon, or is it real? From the costume designs to the narrative tone and then to the erratic, distracting score, this RUROUNI KENSHIN seems to have no idea what it wants to be.

Sometimes the cartoon-qualities are addressed (Kenshin’s rather gaudy outfit is explained away as borrowed clothes from Kaoru’s father’s more flamboyant youth), whereas other times completely ignored (Sano’s own outfit and sword come to mind). And much of the humor that gave the series in all its other forms such personality has been lifted out, leaving a seriously confused film in its stead.

Give me something that either embraces the over-the-top cartoon/comic roots or strips it down and grounds it in reality - - but please, oh please, just commit!

Goofy looking? Yeah, but if it had been consistent in tone, it wouldn't have been so bad.
Goofy looking? Yeah, but if it had been consistent in tone, it wouldn't have been so bad.

I could go on, complaining about the unnecessary flashback to show how Kenshin got his first scar (and him then telling us who gave him the second - - way to blow it all up front, guys), the terribly executed double-climax, the inconsistent casting, and so on, but there was some good here and, in deference to that, I’ll stand down.

Truthfully, after the movie ended, I found myself just as confused by my feelings as the movie itself seemed confused by its own existence. As a fan of the series, I thought Takeru Sato did a great job as Kenshin, and a number of the fights were amazingly choreographed (Kenshin defending the Kamiya dojo from Kanryu’s goons comes to mind here), though the fights were all a bit too short.

I was disappointed by this flick, to say the least. Without a connection to the source material, I probably would’ve been railing against it as a huge waste of time. Instead I find myself in the precarious position of cautiously recommending it for those curious KENSHIN fans who want to see what went wrong.

Everybody else: keep your distance.

Nick Tapalansky is an author of comics and other things, some of them nominated for awards and stuff. Read some comics for free at http://www.NickTapalansky.com/blog and find him on Twitter as @NickTapalansky.

Post by Nightwolf (113 posts) See mini bio Level 13

I need to see this movie.

Post by Marshal Victory (2,220 posts) See mini bio Level 13

Maybe will cach it on hulu which im sure will be next year way things seem to turn over there.A series as long as this its dispointing that they could not try for a trilogy an do it right.

Post by rubberluffy (589 posts) See mini bio Level 16

Sounds like a real shame. Some of those changes you brought up sound completely baffling. I hope this doesn't help kill my dream of a remade anime with an actual complete Jinchu arc to erase the memory of that terrible OVA "adaptation".

Post by NickTapalansky (63 posts) See mini bio Level 9
Staff

@Marshal Victory: Funny enough, they ARE planning more. That's why I'm totally confused as to why they didn't save some material for later. I'll tune in for the next flick, but now I know that my hopes shouldn't be too high.

@rubberluffy: Yeah, it was a big disappointment for me. It may have been a looooooong time since I sat down with any of the source material (again, save the TRUST AND BETRAYAL bits), but I have a real soft spot in my heart for KENSHIN. I read tons of rave reviews about the live action, so it was a bit of a shock that none seemed to take exception to some of the more glaring plot and characterization issues.

I think, though, that your dream and mine may be intact - the movie was a box-office smash in Japan, proving that the franchise still has plenty of legs. With any luck,the live action stuff can keep bringing in dollars and push us closer to Jinchu (though I didn't hate the REFLECTION OVA, I'd have much preferred a full Revenge Arc).

Post by RurouniKenshin4ever (1 posts) See mini bio Level 3

this is a mockery of the whole series. i want Rurouni to live on, but not in this format. it should live on in the format that Nobuhiro Watsuki orignally envisioned!!! Rurouni is no doubt the best anime ever (well perhaps we could debate Dragon Ball Z with its ephemeral dialogue and intense action but in the end Rurouni would win over) and instead of putting their effort into making a live action they should instead bring back the original series... IMHO

Post by rubberluffy (589 posts) See mini bio Level 16

@RurouniKenshin4ever said:

this is a mockery of the whole series. i want Rurouni to live on, but not in this format. it should live on in the format that Nobuhiro Watsuki orignally envisioned!!! Rurouni is no doubt the best anime ever (well perhaps we could debate Dragon Ball Z with its ephemeral dialogue and intense action but in the end Rurouni would win over) and instead of putting their effort into making a live action they should instead bring back the original series... IMHO

Watsuki is currently doing a remake right now in one of Shonen Jump's monthly books. I haven't read it beyond the beginning of the first chapter but people keep referring to it as an adaptation of the live-action movie. I dunno about it, the beginning didn't really grab me.

Also the RK anime is only half good because all the filler after Kyoto (so like half the overall episodes) is pretty damn bad.

Post by Marshal Victory (2,220 posts) See mini bio Level 13

@NickTapalansky: Ehhh! Really? I fear hollywood has corupted them then .This sounds like something they would do.All for honoring source material.Not reimagining crap.Ah well hope springs ethernal but dies in the winter of reality i supose.Shame to was looking forward to this.

Post by GokaiRed (159 posts) See mini bio Level 7

I was always hesitant to watch this but now it seems i was right to hold back on it.

I didn't mind Reflections, too much mellow drama and characterisation was off here and there but considering it one of 2 ways they could have ended Kenshin's story. I haven't watched Trust and Betrayal in a dogs age but it is my fav after the Kyoto Arc.

Saito's Awesome :)

Post by Eyz (38 posts) See mini bio Level 8

Oh, oh....

Kenshin was easily one of my all time personal favorite mangas. I was ok with the anime, but because of the abysmal fillers, prefered the books over it.

This movie sounds...confusing °___°

Post by EamonBDoc (11 posts) See mini bio Level 6

I don't know what it is but I never really like live-action Japanese action movies or manga adaptations. They always seem like fan films...why bother doing this with all the perfectly done animated material and comics

Post by NickTapalansky (63 posts) See mini bio Level 9
Staff

@Eyz: Yeah, confusing is it. I'm sort of hoping that I saw some kind of cut version, as they'll sometimes cut for time/content on these flights, but the few films I came across like that were clearly documented as such with a note at the start of the flick. Plus, even without the plot holes, the whole thing just felt sloppy anyway.

Like said, it really just felt like a high-budget fan film. The filmmakers clearly wanted to bring RUROUNI KENSHIN into the real world but seemed unwilling to accept the intent/tone of the source material while also being unable to part with it entirely.

@EamonBDoc: Yes! This! In Japan, where anime and manga doesn't have the same social stigma that comics and cartoons do here, it seems totally unnecessary to do this sort of adaptation... And if you absolutely must, there's no reason to do it wrong or badly! You're speaking to the same audience, just through a different medium!

Post by pumpkinmuzzle (1 posts) See mini bio Level 2

The author of this review is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but it's disappointing that individuals who call themselves fans are already agreeing with this post without actually having SEEN the film first. I would never NOT see a film I'm curious about or I'm looking forward to watching just because a critic didn't like the film.

I myself enjoyed the film immensely. I did miss the humor in the series but then again it might have made the film confusing to those who didn't watch the series. I was impressed with how they condensed the story of the first 10 or so episodes in the anime into one movie. I'm glad they included Saito (my favourite character), but I agree that they could have saved the story of the scars for the sequel. I missed Aoshi, but hopefully they can find a way to include him in the sequel.

The movie is not without it flaws, but I would still recommend it and I am looking forward to watching the sequel/s (can't wait for the Shishio arc!).

Post by Kurohige (3,718 posts) See mini bio Level 19

This looks awesome, I really want to see this, it only bothers me that Sano has facial hair...

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