Many of us have grown up watching the Samurai X/Kenshin cartoons (anime) on TV. Or read the classic manga. Kenshin is without doubt one of the best known Japanese fictional characters in the Western world, and it was a bit of a surprise that it took ‘till 2012 for there to finally be a movie adaptation. A live action movie that when announced both rejoiced fans and left them skeptic of the venture.
That skepticism turned out to be entirely unnecessary, as Rurouni Kenshin has become, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best anime/manga adaptations into a live action movie ever made.
The story in this movie takes place in Tokyo, 1878, during the Japanese Meiji period. Or the Tokyo Arc if you want to know which part of the series has been turned into a movie. Samurai have had to make room for an organized police force, and katana for batons, fighting staffs and firearms. Even though this era would be Victorian to our western standards, the movie has a distinctive dieselpunk feel to it. Regardless of this, this is probably one of the best examples of Victoriental cinematography. It mixes the beauty of Japan of that first imperial ear of the country, with the modern progress that is slowly taking over after feudal times. Both traditional Japanese wardrobes are mixed with western dress and law enforcement uniforms of that time, perfectly adding to the entire atmosphere and the setting of the movie. The same goes for the architecture. Whilst most buildings are traditionally Japanese for that time period, the villain resides in a plantation style manor with some elements true to his own country, again presenting the perfect mix between both in the movie.
Every single character has been well cast, and even though some have been slightly altered for this version, they do the original versions proud. The story features all the major cast we’ve come to known from this setting: Kenshin, Kaoru, Megumi, Sanosuke and Yahiko, with their own quirks and personalities perfectly portrayed.
Let me say that special kudos should go to Teruyuki Kagawa, who plays the role of Takeda Kanryū, the main villain in this tale. For seldom have I seen a villain that was so worthy of the title. He really puts down a dieselpunk style bad guy you just can’t help but loving to despise so thoroughly the man deserves an award for his performance. Even more so than the rest of the cast, who are also all doing a splendid job.
Where the anime and manga could be quite brutal, the movie is exactly the same, although it has been limited to necessary violence for the plot. I wouldn’t say this is quite the all ages film as some reading skills for the subtitles are required, because let’s face it, watching this in dub will just take away from it. As for the violence, I would advise parents to treat it like every other action movie, as I’m sure they’ll known their children best.
In any case, for everyone that loves the victoriental genre, Japanese cinema, the original Kenshin stories (whether the manga or the anime), samurai film or action films or dieselpunk, this is a definite recommendation. And everyone else should see it too, because it’s just that good. I look forward to the cinematographic retelling of the Kyoto Arc (part one is currently in theatres in Japan, with part two getting its release in September) already.