Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins – Review

Today I reviewed the first Rurouni Kenshin live action movie, which was a generally wonderful time! I only absorbed bits and pieces of Rurouni Kenshin back in the day, but this certainly seemed to capture the spirit of what I’d seen, along with just being a generally well-composed, exciting, and surprisingly thematically rich film. As I say in the review, Kenshin mines an extremely fertile vein of thematic territory with its dawn-of-Meiji-era setting, and this film takes full advantage of that. I hope you enjoy the piece!

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my notes below.

“Battousai the Killsword, an assassin at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate.” He fought to take them down

January 1968

This actually looks quite good! The scale is legit, the effects look solid. And it’s all physical effects, which is really nice

Terrific contrast of blue background and red blood

This time period is inherently compelling – the end of the era of the sword

Lots of sweet fights, good fight choreography

Strong music too. Good drums, sounds effectively period-ish

This Kenshin also looks really Kenshin-ish

I really love the melodramatic pacing and tone they go for

“It’s here. The new era. Finally…”

“Don’t think this is the end. Though the world may change, we live by the sword and die by the sword. That doesn’t change.”

This film is pretty beautiful. Ostentatious shots, hyperreal filters

Some black-eyed dude who can recognize the memories in a sword

Man, this soundtrack is BADASS. Love this chanting track for the title drop

And now it’s 1978, year 11 of the Meiji era

The Meiji Restoration

“As we model ourselves after western nations, we continue to gain new power”

The classic conflict of the old world and new era

These sets are so great. It’s all a bit camp, but it’s so fun

Villains who monologue on the “weakness of man” in their gold-plated offices, etc

Ah, the opium trade

Serious overacting, but this is a larger-than-life production in general

There’s a Battousai imposter out killing people

Some really great comedy fighting, too. Them spinning around each other

“The era has changed, and yet…” The classic scenario – a man trying to leave his past behind him

Kanryu’s the rich opium dude, who seems reflective of the decadent western influences

“Even the government cannot do as they please. Because that is the new era”

Kanryu hired a bunch of former, now destitute swordsmen

Megumi’s probably the opium woman. She ran away

Kanryu’s rogues gallery is great

Great buildup to his appearance

“I focus my razor-will to immobilize my enemies.” Haha, the classic “explaining my technique” approach

Yeah, Kenshin’s actor is great. The rest of the cast’s a little sketchier

The sets continue to be lovely

“It’s not like I needed your help.” Ever tsun

Kaoru Kamiya, that’s her name

Her father championed a school of bearing the sword to protect life

They’re condensing this story into a movie-ready format pretty gracefully

Kenshin advises her not to fight. The style isn’t worth her life

The film’s a bit too archetypal and characters a bit too broad to land with true weight, but it’s still a lot of fun

Yahiko Myojin, the boy who frequents their school

Kaoru’s acting isn’t quite convincing

When you reduce this story to its major beats, it does feel a bit more archetypal. The bullying of their school, etc

And these guys are just generic goons

“Swordsmanship is a way to kill people. No amount of pretty words will conceal that truth. But I find myself less enamored of that truth, and more in favor of the lady’s naive silliness.”

Hah, this little detail of him removing his shoes before he continues to beat their asses inside the hall

And he takes them all down without a sword

Kenshin Himura

His mild astonishment at everything that happens is so very Kenshin. It’s great

More small bits of good physical comedy – Kenshin trying to catch water from drops in the ceiling

The former soldier who’s now an officer is also great. A great swagger to him

“In that era, our paths may have differed, but we both wanted the country to be better”

Goro Fujita is the soldier

“Opium destroys countries”

The pride of a country

The government wants him to fight for them, and hunt down the people producing opium

Man, this Kenshin is great

His prior leader actually apologizes, and says he was wrong to ask him. A surprising and nice gesture

Some of the direction is right around TV drama level, but the atmosphere is strong

This film does something pretty impressive: it makes it feel almost like this was the format the story was always intended for

Kenshin gets invited to Kaoru’s place

Megumi Takani is the opium creator

And at last, he assumes his traditional outfit

Yeah, this scene is a “hey, you guys know this” moment

Megumi jumps straight to “flirty romantic rival.” It’s an awkward shift, definitely reflective of condensing the narrative

“All of us have made up our minds not to sell.” Huh

Kanryu arrives

Kanryu’s a pretty great camp villain

And Sanosuke Sagara arrives

Another great fight, using the whole environment, as appropriate for Sanosuke’s sword

“For a man like that, you would offer the service of your skills?”

Goro blames Kenshin for getting even more people wrapped up in his bad news

The movie is kind of having to rush here

A flashback to Kenshin’s original conviction, where he decided to become an assassin for the greater good

Man, this fight is gorgeous

The music’s really good too. Great strings here

This film does effectively portray an impossible situation

Kenshin being extremely good at what he does also isn’t a problem, because this story is about how no degree of successful violence will enact meaningful change

His relationship with Kaori is pretty superficial. Just not enough time

Ah, the minigun

Kanryu plans to take the harbor area, built his own fleet, and send the opium worldwide

The man in the mask has his own plans!

The neighborhood water’s been poisoned. Megumi’s on the job!

Megumi is the last heir of a great line of doctors

Megumi’s actress is solid

And Kenshin, thinking back on all that’s happened, gets to his feet

Megumi returns before him. Looks like she’ll end up a hostage

I love Kanryu’s eternally self-fanning henchmen

Megumi tries to kill him. Welp

God this fight is great

First a guy with pistols in the library. Great sequence of fights

They stop their fight to have a snack. Amazing

Kenshin’s opponent is basically a ninja

The film’s small dashes of humor are really good

“Do you know what there is that you can’t buy with money?”

Of course, the false battousai has stolen Kaoru

It has to end with a samurai duel

He shatters his elbow, ending him as a killer without killing him

“Even without killing, it’s possible to save a person”

And of course the villain kills himself. Can’t let Kenshin get away with it

Man, this soundtrack really is great

Yeah, Kanryu’s western-style house is quite the symbol