Is the sequel to “Rurouni Kenshin” a brilliant continuation of Himura Kenshin’s struggle to reconcile with his past as battosai? Or is it a mismatched build up to the supposed conclusion of this samurai saga?
As a blaring standout from the Japanese manga swordplay genre, Himura Kenshin refuses to succumb to killing, despite being an assassin before he went rogue. However, when his legendary reputation as Battosai precedes him, prompting opponents left and right to challenge him, he’s left with very little choices: pick up your back-blade katana or watch innocent people die. That sounds like a very simple storyline, yes? But that’s merely striking the surface here.
What makes “Kyoto Inferno” stand out from the first movie is its deeper exploration of battosai’s struggle between what’s right and wrong: killing a murderous man hell-bent on destroying a country or keeping to his code of ‘no more killing’. It’s a more personal level this time, marked by Takeru Satoh’s intense play of features and the tiniest of ticks.
With the success of the previous movie, it’s really not surprising for Warner Bros. Japan to invest to 2 more movies of the infamous samurai. What’s great is that Inferno doesn’t feel like a mere cash grab. It takes its time building the Japanese setting and exploring Kenshin’s transition from savage assassin to monk-like guest to reluctant hero to ruthless samurai and back again. Takeru Satoh fits the shoes of the widely popular Himura Kenshin down to the last hair strand. His androgynous face with the beautiful pursed lips and the narrow cheekbones with the precisely drawn X scars completes his every gesture, eye glare, and samurai attacks. Complementing his heavy role are comic relief Sanosuke (Munetaka Aoki) and Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei); with the latter’s budding romance with Kenshin seeming more tedious to me with all the dewy-eyed stares and rescue missions.
The film’s focus is more on personal struggle, yes. But that’s not to say Kyoto Inferno is without some impressive action sequences. Although Rurouni holds the ‘OH MY GOD I TOTALLY REMEMBER THAT TECHNIQUE FROM THE ANIME’ kind of reaction, Kyoto still managed to surprise me. What’s annoying is the highly cartoonish Ten Swords joining Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) in his quest for vengeance and dominance.
I sincerely laughed out loud everytime that douchey street punk dude with the perfectly coiffed fake blond hair talked. He was a little too cartoonish to me, but hey nothing unforgiveable. All of the hellish ride to retribution and murder eventually leads to a rather brief many vs 1 fight scene at the prow of a massive battle ship. Seriously, IT IS MASSIVE. Like all middle child movies, this second movie cannot stand alone. It’s a mere build up about what’s coming in the concluding film, a sort of “HEY HERE’S SOMETHING COOL BUT THE THIRD MOVIE WILL BE BETTER” kind of deal. Which I totally get.
So what’s the verdict?
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno is a long cinematic ride that will only be enjoyable if you’re a fan of the manga or anime series. It’s an entertaining film that has continued to feature impressive period set pieces and costumes and precise action sequences. If you’re not a fan, skip the theater and just wait for the DVDs to come. Or torrents, whatever floats your boat. 😀