I was lucky enough to be in Japan during the week the live action Rurouni Kenshin movie was released. Very lucky. I've decided to write a brief description of my theater-going experience, some thoughts on the movie, and then an in-depth summary.
Full disclosure: Rurouni Kenshin was one of my first Japanese series and it is by far my favorite. I started reading it right after the Kyoto arc ended. Not only did I buy a ton of merchandise, but I joined Kenshin mailing lists and chat rooms. I own multiple versions of the same material (Japanese tankouban, English versions, and Taiwanese Kanzenban)! I still enjoy the series a lot, even after re-reading 10 years later.
The whole hype around the movie has been so exciting, barring the horrible OVAs and the mediocre PSP game. For the first time in years, there's fresh Kenshin merchandise and nowadays I actually have money to afford things. There are new figures out, very cute cellphone charms, puffy character keychains, and more. The Kinema-ban chapters have been fun and I really enjoyed Chapter 0 (that I got to pick up in Japan ^^.) It was fun walking around Tokyo seeing and hearing ads for the movie. It was great flipping on the TV and seeing all the promotions. 7-11 did a thing where if you bought two of a certain line of products, you got a clearfile folder for free.
The theater was cooler than outside, but the AC wasn't very strong. I was initially disappointed with the screen size, but then the movie started and the curtains pulled out making it a proper widescreen. I saw trailers for both One Piece Z and Evangelion 3.0, which was awesome.
The movie itself was great. I agree with most of the reviews I've read. There were pacing issues, but nothing unexpected of a Japanese movies. Some parts were just slow and dragged on. But the good parts were very exciting and there was a lot more humor than I was expecting. I definitely enjoyed the movie more than any of the OVAs that were released for Kenshin.
I think all the actors did a great job, especially Aoki Munetaka's Sano, Sato Takeru’s Kenshin, and Eguchi Yosuke's Saito. I was especially surprised by Sano and Saito, as I didn't think they looked right from the stills. But I think in action, they captured the character's spirits well. I don't really know Japanese so I can't comment on their delivery, but everyone's actions looked great. I really enjoyed Kagawa Teruyuki's perfomance as Kanryu. Sure, it's over-the-top cheesy... but that was the character in the manga too. I think all the portrayals were done especially well.
I thought the movie's story was laid out well (the plot was good and everything happened in a good order despite the amount of material being covered), but I think the script itself could have used some work. I especially had problems with Kaoru's portrayal (she seemed really helpless) and the amount of time Kenshin spent being melancholy. I don't think the dialogue they did really explained Kenshin's internal conflicts very well. Without knowing the comic, I would have still enjoyed the movie, but felt much more negative towards the slow scenes. The most frustrating part was how close the movie felt to getting it perfect.
The fights were done very well, but they were very fast. Blink and you'd miss a lot. There's no screaming out technique names... the fight scenes were done much closer to a normal sword based action movie, which I think was a really good decision. None of the fighting looked too goofy, which often happens in these kinds of adaptations. I enjoyed the soundtrack to the film as well.
I was very happy with the subtitles. No Japanese words are used (Rurouni is wanderer and so on...), but I've never really been picky about that. There wasn't much in the translation I disagreed with. Thanks Ian McDougall (I think that was the translator's name...) , great job!
After watching the movie, I headed to the theater lobby. I guess movies all come with merchandise in Japan. I picked up the Kenshin movie booklet (with interviews and lots of pictures) as well as a sakabatou keychain. It was a great film and a very fun experience to watch a movie in Japan!
Here is a very complete summary of the Kenshin movie. I've written down everything I remember. Some things may be in the wrong order, but everything should be there. It's as detailed as I could make it so it's VERY, VERY, VERY spoiler heavy. I give away all of my favorite scenes... so highlight and read on only if you dare...
The movie begins with the end of the battle of Toba-Fushimi. Saito (in Shinsengumi gear) is wandering the battlefield searching for Battousai. Battousai cuts down several men moments before shouts of victory are heard. Battousai, looking more exhausted than relieved, wanders off on his own. He comes across Saito, who demands a duel. Battousai responds to Saito's request by driving his own sword into the ground and wandering off.
The scene cuts to the night where Jine rises from a pile of corpses, amazed to be alive. He wanders around in a daze and stumbles onto Battousai's sword, taking it for his own...
In the 11th Year of Meiji...
The scene settles inside wealthy business man Kanryu's mansion. Kanryu calls in Takani Megumi and a group of men. He praises them for the new addictive spiderweb opium they developed and dreams of the money he'll make. He sends them out, but shuts the door before Megumi and one other man can leave. Everyone outside is slaughtered by Kanryu's bodyguards: Inui Banjin and the masked Gein. Kanryu tells Megumi and the other man that he only needs one person who knows the formula. He does an "eeny-meeny-miny-moe" to choose the survivor, landing on the man. Megumi walks forward and Kanryu hugs her, saying of course he wouldn't hurt her. The other man makes a run for it, jumping out through the window. Kanryu says it doesn't matter and Battousai will take care of it.
The next day, Saito, now a policeman under the name Fujita Goro, finds the corpse of the man from Kanryu's mansion. The man happened to be an undercover agent. Saito's men are freaked out that Battousai killed another officer. Saito tells them this isn't Battousai's work.
Kenshin, wearing a blue and grey hakama, is happily wandering through Tokyo eating a dango when he notices a wanted poster for Battousai, who has been wandering Tokyo at night murdering men under than name of the Kamiya Kasshin school. He's suddenly attacked by a girl with a wooden sword. He dodges her strikes, but eventually falls to the ground. She accuses him of being Battousai, but he says he's not. He's a Rurouni - Wanderer. He shows her that the sword he carries has the dull and sharp sides swapped. She apologizes for her mistake. It's not clear what happens to Kenshin's dango and it never appears again.
Saito goes to Kanryu's mansion and asks him if he knows anything about the recent murders. Kanryu says no and just talks about how great money is. He summons his army of ronin... previously proud samurai who now slave themselves to Kanryu just for rice to eat everyday. Saito warns Kanryu that he's not like other cops and that he doesn't always wait for hard evidence. When Saito leaves, Kanryu is alerted that Megumi escaped with a policeman. Kanryu isn't worried. If Megumi said anything, she would be taken in as an accomplice. He sends Battousai, who is actually Jine, to fetch her.
Megumi waits in the police station when screams are suddenly heard. She escapes while Jine slaughters his way through all police officers. It's a pretty cool fight scene. Jine takes great pleasure in killing.
Kaoru is outside playing with a cat when a dying policeman stumbles towards her. She sees Jine walks by and realizes he's the Battousai sullying the name of her school. She challenges him to a duel. He trivially defeats her, mocking her use of a wooden sword. Right before he kills her, Kenshin jumps in and saves her. Jine recognizes him as the real Battousai, but before they fight, more policemen show up and everyone runs away.
Kaoru thanks Kenshin for her help at her dojo. She explains that her father died in the war and she watches the dojo now, but there are barely any students after the Battousai mess. She explains that her father's style emphasised the "sword that protects life." They chat a bit more. Before Kenshin leaves, she asks for his name. "Himura Kenshin de gozaru."
Kanryu plots with his men about how he'll distribute the opium. He's going to obtain the last few dojos he wasn't able to buy, then tear them all down to create a factory and port for his operation.
Kaoru hears a noise at the door only to find Myojin Yahiko, her sole sometimes-student. She sets him to cleaning the dojo when a group of men show up to buy the dojo from her. She refuses again and they say they'll take it by force. Yahiko jumps in saying he's the defender of the weak, but he's easily pushed aside. The group (led by the Gaara brothers according to the movie book) enter the dojo. Kaoru is furious that they haven't removed their shoes and gets ready to fight. The the group begins mocking the "Sword that protects life" motto. Kenshin appears and says that although the motto is silly, he likes it more than the truth. He proceeds to defeat the entire group by himself in an awesome fight sequence. He only draws his sword to defeat the two brothers. The rest of the town and the police show up because they saw the huge group heading to the dojo. Kenshin says the men were after him and it didn't involve the dojo at all. He and all the men are dragged off to prison.
Kenshin sits in prison as it rains outside. He goofily tries to collect rain in a bowl when Saito fetches him, identifying him as Battousai. (Sanosuke, in an adjacent cell, overhears this.) Saito brings Kenshin to General Yamagata, who is happy to see him again as Battousai disapeared 10 years ago. Yamagata requests that Kenshin help them by killing Kanryu. Kenshin refuses. Yamagata tells him of the rumors he's heard about a wandering samurai helping people without killing. Saito challenges Kenshin to a fight and they take it outside to the courtyard in the pouring rain. Saito tells him that if he uses a blade with the sharp side facing him, the only person he'll hurt is himself. After a short but sweet fight, Saito ends up forcing Kenshin's own sword down on Kenshin's own shoulder. Yamagata orders Saito to stop. He apologizes profusely to Kenshin and lets him leave.
Kaoru is waiting outside for Kenshin. She thanks him for all of his help and offers him an umbrella. She offers him a place to stay at her dojo along with her father's old clothes. Elsewhere, Yahiko finds Megumi stumbling in the streets and brings her into the dojo.
The sky has cleared up and Kenshin has changed clothes. He steps outside his room at the dojo and the camera (slowly) pans to reveal his new pink and white hakama. He meets up with Kaoru. Yahiko appears and introduces them to Megumi, who instantly cozies up to Kenshin. She heard about Kenshin's defense of the dojo from Yahiko.
The group go the Akabeko to have some sukiyaki. As they eat, Kanryu jaunts in. Megumi quickly hides. Kanryu saunters over to Kenshin and tells him he heard about his defense of the dojo. He offers Kenshin a ton of money to be his bodyguard. Kenshin refuses. Kanryu pulls out some more money (I think out of his pants) and adds it to the pile. Kenshin still refuses. Sano bursts in and demands Kanryu hires him instead (as he talks, he lets his zanbatou fall over, which Tae and Sae are barely able to keep up.) He reveals Kenshin's identity as Battousai. He asks Kanryu if he'll hire him if he defeats Kenshin. Kanryu agrees.
Everyone steps outside, where Sano explains that his zanbatou was used to cut down horses during the war. It's dull now, but still deadly. Kenshin dodges all of Sano's swings. Kenshin tells Sano he has no reason to fight him and asks if he'd really work for a guy like Kanryu. Sano admits he wouldn't, then stops fighting, telling the crowd it'd be no good for him to end up in jail again. Kanryu mutters to his aide that he shouldn't get on the Battousai's bad side and leaves. Everyone else goes back inside to eat more beef.
The next day, Jine has struck again. Saito is at the scene and Kenshin happens by. Saito tells Kenshin that this is the result of not helping them kill Kanryu. As a woman cries over a dead policemen's, Kenshin has a flashback. He remembers agreeing to join the war in order to make people's lives better. He remembers a particular assasination. A group of men wander the streets of Tokyo. They congratulate one of the men who is getting married in the morning when Battousai appears. He cuts them all down, but the one to be married keeps rising to fight again, crying out "I can't die yet! I need to live!" Battousai finally cuts him down for good, but gets the first slash of his cross scar. The next day, he watches the corpses being taken away. A woman in white cries (shown only from the back) over the man's corpse while Battousai stares, feeling his scar. The scene cuts back to the present with Kenshin feeling his scar.
Kanryu is close to completing his plan. He gets excited because his gattling gun arrives.
That night, Megumi is outside the dojo when Gein appears. He warns her to be careful and that her actions have consequences.
The next day, a bunch of people all over town are sick. They all end up in the Kamiya dojo. Sano brings in a sick little girl. Megumi rushes outside, tastes the dojo's water, and realizes that Gein put rat poison in the water supply. She gives all the healthy people tasks to do and gets everyone treated.
Kenshin talks to Megumi alone while they fetch water. He asks about her past. She tells him he shouldn't ask about hers unless he tells her about his. Kenshin tells her that the first slash of his cross scar came from a man he assasinated, the other slash came from the man's wife to be. Kenshin tells her he's killed so many men. She yells back that she hasn't killed anyone. She flashes back to developing the opium while her test subjects beg for more in the prisons. She tells Kenshin her family was killed and Kanryu took her in. He used her to make opium and she used him to live.
A doctor brought from the next town over tells Kaoru they're lucky Megumi was there or else everyone would have died. He tells her about the famous Takani family. They were great doctors, but took the wrong side in the war. None were known to survive. Everyone has recovered by the evening, but Megumi has disappeared. Kenshin decides to stop Kanryu. Sano announces he'll join in after everything Kanryu has done. Yahiko wants to go to, but Kenshin tells him to stay behind and watch over Kaoru.
Megumi goes back to Kanryu, who welcomes her with open arms. She tells him she didn't return to help him, but to assasinate him then kill herself. She's stopped by a bodyguard. Kanryu is furious at her, but is interupted from beating her to hear Battousai and Sano have broken onto the premises. Kanryu orders Megumi locked up and rushes off. As Megumi is dragged off, Jine stoops down to talk to her.
Kenshin and Sano easily take out the ronin in the mansion courtyard. At some point, Sano tosses his zanbatou to a group of 4 men, who stuggle to hold it. He kicks them down and doesn't bother retrieving the sword. The ronin start backing off. Kanryu throws money from the roof, telling them whoever defeats Kenshin or Sano will be rich beyond their wildest dreams. They renew their attack. Kenshin and Sano take out everyone.
They enter the mansion and Banjin appears. He asks who he'll fight. Sano volunteers and they have a good ol' fashion brawl, eventually ending up in a kitchen. Kenshin goes to another room and runs into Gein. Kenshin asks what caused him to stoop so low, Gein removes his mask, revealing a half scarred face. In this rendition, Gein is young, pretty, blond man. He tells Kenshin this new era caused him to starve and he joined Kanryu in order to live. He fires a cord and catches Kenshin. He tries to shoot Kenshin with pistols, but Kenshin dodges everything. Finally, he resorts to a knifre. The fight alternates between the Sano/Banjin brawl and the Kenshin/Gein duel.
During their brawl, Sano eyes a piece of chicken on the floor and calls for a timeout. Banjin obliges, and Sano eats the chicken. He tosses half to Banjin. Banjin sets it down, saying "Poor Bird. I'm a vegetarian." Sano offers him some wine, which Banjin accepts. After they both eat a bunch of random things, they resume their brawl. Sano says Banjin needs to use his head more before headbutting him. He finishes the fight by suplexing Banjin. Kenshin also finishes his fight with Gein.
They rush to the next room, but before they enter, the door explodes open from gattling gunfire. Sano runs in, barely hiding behind a pillar. Kanryu shouts "How dare you guys destroy my mansion!", Sano retorts "You're destroying it yourself!" Kenshin is still outside the room when Saito non-chalantly walks up. He tells them Yahiko contacted the police. He says the gattling gun can only fire in one direction, so if they can distract Kanryu, Saito can take him out. Kenshin and Sano draw Kanryu's fire while Saito does a Gatotsu, defeating the gattling gun. Kenshin and Sano rush forward to Megumi, who tells them Jine went after Kaoru.
Kenshin meets Jine at dawn near a shrine in a forest. Kaoru is tied up on some steps. Jine wants to fight the true Battousai. They fight for a bit. Kenshin is too weak, so Jine uses his powerful will to stop Kaoru from breathing. Unless Kenshin kills Jine within two minutes, Kaoru won't be able to breathe. Kenshin switches back into Battousai mode, saying "I’m angry at you for abducting Kaoru-dono. And I’m angry at myself for letting you do it" with a very rough form of speech. Kenshin sheathes his sword, then attacks with iai-jutsu. Jine dodges the first strike, but then Kenshin smashes Jine's elbow with his sheath. Kenshin states the name of the attack, then raises his sword, intending to kill Jine with the sharp side. Kaoru shouts for Kenshin not to do it. She cries on for a while telling Kenshin he needs to stay the way he is and Kenshin is relieved she's okay. Jine is amazed she broke through his will on her own. He tells Kenshin it's not over yet, picks up a sword, then kills himself. He dies, laughing at Kenshin, telling him a killer will always be a killer.
The police have swarmed Kanryu's mansion and there's enough evidence to legally put him away.
Kaoru awakes the next day to Sano's snores. Sano is still bloody from the night before. She sees Megumi cooking in the kitchen. She runs around the dojo and sadly realizes that Kenshin left. Just then, Kenshin walks in with a bucket of vegetables. Yahiko tells her he just stepped out to grab some supplies for dinner. Kaoru welcomes him back with an "Okaeri." Kenshin replies with "Tadaima" - I'm home.