The Rurouni Kenshin franchise is a bit of a modern classic for me with incredible swordfights, memorable characters and an emotional core that makes it endlessly rewatchable.
I know I’m late to the party but I had never seen any of the Rurouni Kenshin movies or Nobuhiro Watsuki’s Rurouni Kenshin manga series so I’ve spent the past few weeks catching up on all 5 live action movies. I’ve seen bits of the manga and at some point I’ll watch it all but this article is just for the movies.
Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins (2012)
Plot: Former legendary assassin Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) has now become a wandering samurai. Offering aid & protecting those in need as atonement for his past deeds. During this time Kenshin Himura comes across and aides Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei). Her father opened the Kamiya Kasshin-ryu, a kendo school located in Tokyo and Kaoru is now an instructor there. Kaoru then invites Kenshin to stay at her dojo. Their relationship develops further, but Kenshin is still haunted by his violent past…
Reading the above plot sounds like your typical Samurai/Warrior tale of a great warrior who has laid down his sword but is forced to pick it up once again. However, what I loved about Origins is that Kenshin Himura AKA Battousai The Killsword genuinely does want peace and manages to avoid taking lives, finding other methods to defeat his enemies.
When he was young Battousai was the deadliest killsword in the business where his very name would instill fear into his enemies; years after the “New Age” where Japan has become more civilized outlawing the carrying of swords Battousai takes on the name of Kenshin and tries to avoid revealing who he really is helping those in need.
On his travels he meets Kaoru Kamiya and the two form a bond; the way Kenshin saves Kaoru from intruders at her father’s dojo is nearly identical to the manga so I think fans should be pleased with this faithful adaptation.
The stunning visuals engage from the start along with the incredible music score; that main theme is truly epic featuring female vocals and choirs.
The fight scenes are fluid and smooth; there is a fantastical element but it only adds to the sheer beauty of the action scenes helping this to feel like Manga brought to real life.
Takeru Satoh is perfectly cast as Kenshin brining a quiet vulnerability to the character but also proving that he hasn’t lost his touch as a warrior over the years. He looks just like the animated character as do the other cast members.
At 2 hours and 14 minutes you could say it’s a little long but it’s never boring with just the right amount of humour and drama to keep you engaged in between the sword battles. The final 30 minutes is worth the build up and I can’t wait to see what happens in Part II.
Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
Plot: Kenshin reluctantly agrees to go to Kyoto to help stop Makoto Shishio and his warriors from overthrowing the new government.
Kenshin Himura returns in what I would consider The Empire Strikes Back of the saga; it’s just a little bit darker ending on a cliffhanger which will make you want to start Part III immediately (which is exactly what I did). Kenshin is trying to enjoy a peaceful life with Kaoru but when the police come calling asking for his help to take down Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) he can’t turn them down as the future of Japan is at stake. So Kenshin makes his way to Kyoto to stop Shishio however, this plan isn’t going to be easy as Shishio is one step ahead of everyone.
Kyoto Inferno is arguably even more action packed than the first movie with regular epic swordfights and jaw dropping choreography.
The opening scene is quite devastating with Shishio creating his own Hell with him dropping police officers into the flames below; it’s haunting stuff and one of the most disturbing moments of the franchise.
We still get plenty of character moments and Kaoru is there to be Kenshin’s conscience trying to make sure he doesn’t descend into his old ways of becoming a Killsword. Sagara Sanosuke returns as Kenshin’s loyal friend and brawler who hates that Kenshin keeps going off without him.
Aside from Shishio who is pure evil there are some other fin adversaries like Sojiro Seta who is wonderfully arrogant and Sawagejō Chō (Ryosuke Miura) as the blonde assassin who is lifted straight out of Manga.
That incredible main theme kicks in during the climactic battle and it really is one of the most amazing pieces of action movie music I’ve heard for some time.
The only thing which has bothered me about both movies so far is the bizarre subtitles which can get a little annoying as they try to add accents to it; it’s hard to explain but that didn’t really work for me personally.
There are some nice moments of humour mostly provided by Sanosuke; at one point he is mid-battle with a bad guy and they both stop to eat.
Overall, Kyoto Inferno is another winner in the Kenshin series with memorable visuals, epic swordfights and a fast pace; considering the runtime is just under 2 hours and 20 minutes it’s never dull for a minute and the ever more outlandish characters are a sight to behold.
Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends (2014)
Plot: Shishio sets sail in his ironclad ship to bring down the government. In order to stop him, Kenshin trains with his old master to learn his final technique.
This third entry was initially the finale but then this year Netflix released two more movies which I’ll get to after this. The Kenshin franchise has rapidly become one of my favourite movie series as I have really fallen in love with the characters and the action really is quite breathtaking; yes, there is CG and wirework but as I said before this is essentially a fantasy picture so just go with it and enjoy the balletic action.
The familiar themes of regret and redemption are prevalent as Kenshin tries to put his past behind him as a Killsword forever and save Japan from destruction by the maniacal Shishio.
I never really want Kenhsin to stick to being peaceful; I always want him to unleash his fury and cut down everyone in a fury of bloodshed but then there wouldn’t be much in the way of characterization…
If this had been the last entry in the series it would have been a satisfying end as practically the final hour is just one epic battle scene with swordplay galore, fist fights and explosions.
Anytime you hear that lone female vocal you know it’s building up to the adrenaline-fuelled theme tune and that Kenshin is about to kick some serious ass.
I’m now intrigued to check out the anime version (although it seems hard to find) which is not something I’m normally into but this has piqued my curiosity.
Overall, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends has some incredible action scenes once again but never loses sight of the characters so everyone gets their moment to shine giving us an emotionally engaging story as well as jaw dropping spectacle.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)
Plot: In the late 1860s, Japan’s final civil war rages on, spreading from the battlefields to the city streets at night. The famed swordsman “Hitokiri Battousai” has been slaying members of the government with impunity, with no regard for the number of guards standing in his way. Even the elites of the Shinsengumi have been unable to subdue him. That said, the lives Battousai has taken have all but destroyed the once idealistic young man who wished for nothing more than to help bring Japan into a new era, leaving behind nothing but an emotionless killing machine. Yet, one night, he meets a beautiful woman who is as broken as he is. Their intertwined fate weaves the story of what turned this hardened killer into a wandering samurai who refuses to kill.
So we come to the first of the Netflix movies and The Beginning needless to say is a prequel so I suggest watching this one before the other entries.
It has some great action in the first half, but this tale is really more of a tragic love story focusing on Kenshin and Tomoe Yukishiro’s (Kasumi Arimura) blossoming romance… however, all is not as it seems.
As stated previously I love Takeru Satoh as Kenshin with his stoic countenance rarely showing any emotion so we never know what he is thinking. He walks around almost like he is in a trance and these movies really capture the restraint between the characters in terms of displaying emotions.
The Beginning explores what leads Kenshin to lay down his sword and give up killing; this is arguably the slowest entry in the series but widely regarded as the best by some although I personally prefer The Legend Ends simply because it has more action scenes.
This still has no shortage of bloodshed and it retains the gracefulness of the other movies in terms of the movement during the swordplay. It also has heart and like the rest of the franchise it keeps you engaged with the characters and everything they are going through. Tomoe is a wonderfully realised character who is understandably conflicted about her feelings for Himura after her past history.
I was nearly disappointed by the end that we hadn’t heard the main theme but then it comes on for the final scene and I was in my happy place once more.
Overall, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning adds some extra depth to the character of Himura Kenshin and although it may not have the amount of action that the other entries have in the series it’s still a welcome addition.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final (2021)
Plot: In 1879, Kenshin and his allies face their strongest enemy yet: his former brother-in-law Enishi Yukishiro and his minions, who have vowed to take their revenge.
And so we come to the final entry in the live action Rurouni Kenshin franchise which I suggest you watch after The Beginning as the flashbacks would spoil that entire movie otherwise.
This is one of the few movie series which doesn’t have a weak entry and The Final is a satisfying and action-packed ending delivering us spectacular action and even more outlandish villains. One even has a Gatling gun for an arm!
This has far more action that The Beginning, but it still keeps its heart and our villain Enishi is someone we can empathize with as he wants to avenge the death of his sister. Sadly, grief has turned him quite mad and he doesn’t care who gets in the way of his destroying Kenshin.
There is a strong emotional core to these movies which is why they work so well with enough tragedy and redemption to make you care about that is happening on screen. Kenshin spends his days trying to atone for his sins but the pain never goes away.
Every fight happens for a reason and Himura manages to keep to his oath right up to the very end where he doesn’t kill anyone again.
One of my favourite characters of the franchise has to be Hajime Saito (Yôsuke Eguchi) who you never see without a cigarette hanging from his mouth and he is also a total hero who wants to do the right thing.
As I’ve mentioned in every other review for these movies it’s that moment when the music kicks in that does it for me with a returning character showing up to kick ass with Himura which had me cheering in the aisles.
Overall, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is a rewarding end to the franchise with spectacular swordplay and set-pieces, memorable characters and an emotional core which keeps you engaged.
So those are my thoughts on the live action Rurouni Kenshin movies; I’m waiting for the obligatory “the manga is better” comments which will be ignored but as I said I may watch them at some point. Are these perfect movies? No but nothing really is but for sheer entertainment value I love every second and will happy watch any and all of them again in the future.