The Films (4.5/5, 4/5)
After a bloody revolution, The Meiji Era has officially started. Traveling the Japanese countryside is master swordsman Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh), a man running from his past and years of killing. To show he will never kill again, he carries a specially made reserve blade sword. While trying to live his new life, enemies from his past and new villains with conquering Japan on their minds, Kenshin is challenged to fight for what’s right and avoid returning to his old murderous ways. To aid him is Kamiya Kaoru (Emi Takei), a Kendo school owner who secretly has deeper feelings for the young swordsman.
RUROUNI KENSHIN is based on the hugely poplar manga created by Nobuhiro Watsuki. The manga quickly became a hit and spawned a popular Anime series, animated movies, plenty of spin offs, and sequels. So, it was only a matter of time until a live-action adaptation would be put into Production. One of the pluses of Watsuki’s Manga is its simple tale of balance of peace and atonement, it’s also an update of classical samurai dramas with colorful new characters. Because of this character based drama, it’s an easier transitional story to live-action film. The RUROUNI KENSHIN movies not only succeed at being faithful to the source material, but also work as an introduction to these characters without sacrificing character development.
The first movie was simply released as RUROUNI KENSHIN (2012) as a standalone movie, with the hopes of a possible series. When the movie became a hit, it didn’t take long for sequels to come into their own. 2014 saw the release of a two-part story, with KYOTO INFERNO coming first, and then the conclusion THE LEGEND ENDS, in the same vein as THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS, the first movie was retitled ORIGINS as part of Funimation’s release of all three films.
ORIGINS is a simply one of the best Manga adaptations to film I’ve seen. KYOTO INFERNO on the other hand is still an exciting adventure with enough action and melodrama for a mini-series, it’s faulted when not viewed with its second part. While this may sound like a knock to it, it still ends with an excellent cliffhanger. Director Keishi Otomo, keeps the building blocks in place giving PART 1 plenty of breathing room to introduce the characters without feeling like a rushed origin movie. The movie is dripping with classical drama, and at times feels like an Akira Kurosawa movie in line with THE HIDDEN FORTESS or YOJIMBO. But with the editing, we see a very contemporary movie with some pulse pounding action.
Both films are packed with spectacular sword fights, with two being classic battles in the making. The first in KYOTO INFERNO at the temple is right up there with Luke and Darth Vader’s fight in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The Choreography is a balanced mix of stylish editing, wire-fu, and traditional fencing. Most of the action is connected in a manga like style of connecting camera movements, that zoom and swirl into place like panels of a comic. The whole picture is boiling with movement and raw energy. Luckily the camera work keeps up with the furious pace and doesn’t have any shaky cam.
Cast wise, the flamboyant manga characters are brought to life with the same level of power while still being believable as real people. Male Model and actor Takeru Satoh (TV’s Kamen Rider Den-O) is perfect as Kenshin. He matches the looks and personality of the manga character, and then beefs it up with more human emotion. He is completely believable in the action scenes as well. Emi Takei (AI TO MAKOTO) is a likable female lead with naive charm and plenty of back bone. Teruyuki Kagawa (Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s TOKYO SONATA) makes a fun businessman villain in Part 1, and Munetaka Aoki (Takashi Miike’s HARA-KIRI) is great as the supporting bawler character.
Funimation has released both movies in Blu-ray/ DVD combo packs. Each movie comes with two discs and a code for a digital copy. There’s two options. First up is the original Japanese, in a Dolby TRUEHD 5.1 mix (the DVD versions are just regular Dolby 5.1 Audio). The mix is one of the best I’ve heard on Blu-ray this year. The Sound mix is bursting with detail with fine-tuned sound effects, clear dialogue, and a crisp score by Naoki Sato. The music is loud, but not over bearing. Some sections in the fight scenes bounce off the TV. This is a score meant to be heard on a well-stocked sound system. The English dub track is also Dolby TRUEHD 5.1 and sounds fine. The vocals and effects sound wonderful, but I personally just prefer listening to the original track. Easy to read English subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD transfer is another beauty. The colors and picture quality are fantastic. The greens, yellows, and browns are eye popping, giving the movie a look of an old photograph. The picture is so clear you can pick out the number of hairs on a character’s head. The black levels are sharp and show a complex layer of shadows in many key scenes. Part 2 is a darker movie, and the color correction and look of the film is still a beauty. The greys and oranges in the battle scenes are poetic and screen shots would make perfect paintings.
Funimation has given both films a handsome selection of extra features. Part 1 has Cast interviews with Takeru Sato, Emi Takei, Koji Kikkawa, Yu Aoi, Munetaka Aoki, Yosuke Eguchi, and Teruyuki Kagawa. The cast seem a little too vague about the production, but overall are a joy to listen to. There’s a deleted scenes gallery with 4 deleted scenes. There’s an original Making of special, original trailer, News Flash ad, Super News Flash, and preview gallery of Funimation releases.
Part 2 starts off with another collection of Cast Interviews. This one takes more time to explain the production and success of the first film. Next up is Kyoto Inferno X the Legends Ends Special: Rurouni Kenshin explained in 5 minutes, the segment has a couple spoilers since it covers a two-part movie. But it’s a neat mini documentary. The rest of the disc contains Kyoto Inferno Trailer, three tv spots (Battle, Changing History, and Romance spots), News Flash, and Funimation trailer gallery.
RUROUNI KENSHIN movies 1 and 2 are both entertaining thrill rides that not only do the source material justice, but are near classic Japanese action films in the making. Even if you’re not a fan of the Manga or Anime versions, these movies are perfect for any Japanese cinema fan. Funimation also loads the releases with extras, and fantastic transfer. If you’re a Japanese cinema fan these releases are a no brainer. Can’t wait to see Part 3. Highly Recommended.