Watch or Not: Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

The film adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin hit Singapore cinemas this week, much to the delight of practically the entire country. But does the Rurouni Kenshin film do its manga and anime versions justice? Read on to find out, and don’t worry about spoilers; there are none here! Any otaku worth his salt will have grown up on the series, so to finally see it transition into a live-action film is something many have been waiting for. It’s a common fact that live-action adaptations have the tendency to suck, mostly because it is sometimes impossible to translate characters and situations from a fictional universe into real life. Rurouni Kenshin, however, gets several things spot on.

Casting is superb in the movie. Takeru Satoh portrays an amazing Kenshin, his expressions malleable enough to change from harmless, confused, ‘oro’-spouting Kenshin to the hardened killer Battousai in a split second. Sanosuke, played by Munetaka Aoki, is your loudmouthed street fighter down pat, and Saito exhibits the same scorn he exudes in the anime. But Emi Takei was a bit too much of a delicate flower to accurately play Kaoru; while she acted her role out perfectly, her small stature and pretty face took away from the gusto of her performance. Megumi, too, was a little too gorgeous for the slightly-older lady we’re used to seeing in the anime and manga.

Complementing yin with yang, drug lord Kanryu Takeda made for a horribly good villain. Constantly accompanied by three identical cronies, the opium kingpin with his protruding lower jaw and ridiculous hair was spoiled, unstable, and perfectly cast. His soldiers – the band of ex samurais drawn to his service by the promise of money – are exactly the sort of characters you’d see comically drawn in a mob just for Kenshin to dispatch.

The action in the movie is also a stunner. Fight scenes are not as theatrical as what you’d normally see in an Eastern movie, but they convey the urgency of the mood very well. Instead of relying on dramatic moments, director Keishi Otomo goes for gritty realism. Blood splashes are everywhere, and the gurgle of the dying was enough to make me cringe. It’s clear that the film uses minimal CGI, yet the production team somehow managed to grace Kenshin with supernatural speed and elegance.

While I can’t comment on how historically accurate the film’s setting and mise-en-scene was, it did definitely feel like it had taken place back in the Meiji era. Colours in the film were muted, as if everything was happening far behind in the past. The featured locations were also great choices, from the Kamiya Kasshin to drug lord Kanryu’s Western-styled mansion.

Rurouni Kenshin is great if you go by visuals alone, but I felt it stumbled a little in its pacing. Though it ran a 134 minutes long, it felt much longer due to the nature of its script. Because there were so many integral characters, the ‘introduction’ part of the film dragged out longer than most, and the plot only started to really get moving in the later half of the movie. Still, fans of the anime/manga series are in for some treats, as director Keishi Ohtomo stayed mostly true to the original series – from Kenshin swapping into his trademark red yukata, Saito’s recognizable strike pose and even a little tease on someone from the Battousai’s past.

While the scriptwriters must be applauded for sticking closely to their story arc of choice, they are, after all, writing for the silver screen. I felt that the story could have been rehashed a little to make for better screentime, and to pack in more action. Because really, we’re here to see what we read and watched re-enacted by real people!

What I especially liked was how all the characters shared the same chemistry they did in both the manga and the anime. Back when I watched Rurouni Kenshin, there was nothing quite like watching everyone gather back in the Kamiya dojo after each story arc. That same familial feel is apparent in the movie, and the ease at which all these familiar faces click with one another will surely warm a fan’s heart. There are also many exchanges and exclamations in the film that make you recall one moment or another from the anime (even Kenshin’s hiten mitsurugi-ryu was done with aplomb!)

On the other hand, I really hated the audio. The series’ emotional soundtrack is nowhere to be found; in their place are a lilting, almost annoying circus jingle and crude, thunderous, Western-influenced tracks more at home in a Hollywood movie. It would definitely have done better had a better OST been chosen.

In spite of that, the live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin is one hundred percent worth watching, whether you’re heading into the cinema to pick on how the story arc has been rewritten, or how the characters look, or to simply check out the movie many RK fans have been waiting for. The music, while not the best choice, still manages to complement every scenes save for the end credits, but you’ll be out of the cinema by then since they’re all in Japanese.

We give Rurouni Kenshin 8/10.


[Photos: Google]