Rurouni Kenshin: Busan Review

Rurouni Kenshin film still
Sword and fist fights galore enliven a romantically filmed manga about a young samurai who says no to killing 

Director Keishi Otomo brings a wildly popular Japanese manga to life with a boost from young star Takeru Sato.

BUSAN – How many ways can you say, “Killing is bad”? Rurouni Kenshin, the lush adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s wildly popular manga, finds many ways to put its non-violence message before the young audiences who are likely to adore it. Like many screen mangas, adults will find it a little too teenage for comfort, underlined by the casting of young Japanese TV stars in the lead roles. The film, being sold by Gaga, grossed over $25 million for Warner Bros in Japan.

The action opens on a ghoulish battlefield in 1868, the battle of Toba-Fushima, shot through blue filters to emphasize its other-worldliness. Amid the dead and dying, the young samurai Battosai (Takeru Sato) who face is hidden by blood-matted hair walks away as Empire is declared and the birth of a new age.

Ten years go by. The new age has come to Japan and the samurai have disbanded or become sordid mercenaries. The rapacious businessman Kanryu, played with toothy glee by a delightfully over-the-top Teruyuki Kagawa, has his private army of ex-samurai including a super-national fiend who kills for the hell of it. Kaoru (Emi Takei), a nice girl who runs a fencing school left to her by her father, challenges the monster and is only saved by the intervention of a mysterious young Wanderer – Battosai in his new guise. He has renounced killing and wears a sword whose blade is on the wrong side, to honor his pledge never to kill again. For Kaoru and Battosai, now called Kenshin, the sword is a way of life, not death. But most people living in the new age see things differently. Forced over and over again to fight in excitingly filmed action scenes, Kenshin never loses his cool or his steely moral resolve.

With his long pony-tail, curvaceous lips and wide eyes, Takeru play up his resemblance to a Japanese Michael Jackson. Standing out less in the film is the soap-and-water Emi as his idealistic love interest. Though she’s a courageous girl who defends her father’s memory, she is continually thrown into an out-dated damsel-in-distress role that weakens her appeal. As the vixen who wants to reform and comes to live with them in the fencing school, Ao never quite gels as a character.

Choreography is fast and furious and the sword fights ably showcase Battosai’s incredible skills. Sato Naoki’s energetic score pounds out the action scenes to a barbarian beat.

Venue: Busan Film Festival (Open Cinema), Oct. 5, 2012

A Warner Bros release (in Japan) of a C&I Entertainment, IMG Entertainment, RoC Works, Swan, Warner Bros. production
Cast: Satoh Takeru , Takei Emi, Kikkawa Koji , Aoi Yu, Eguchi Yosuke, Kagawa Teruyuki
Director: Keishi Otomo
Screenwriters: Fujii Kiyomi , Otomo Keishi
Producer: Kubota Osamu
Director of photography: Ishizaka Takuro
Production designer: Hashimoto Sou
Editor: Imai Tsuyoshi
Music: Sato Naoki
Sales Agent: Gaga Corporation
No rating, 134 minutes.