Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (2014)
Hello. I’m Neil. And I’m a Rurouni Kenshin fanboy.
A few years ago, I reviewed the first Rurouni Kenshin live-action film, which I saw on a Malaysian-issued DVD. While my reaction to the first film was a bit lukewarm, I was nonetheless curious to see the subsequent films, at least partly so I can say I’ve seen every RuroKen screen media, including the original series, the Remembrance OVA, one of the absolute best examples of Japanese animation I’ve ever seen, and the absolutely awful Shin-Kyoto-hen OVA. Now that Funimation has officially released all three movies in the US, I can sit down and watch the remaining two, starting with the second part Kyoto Inferno.
While the first film more or less offered a condensed version of the first third of the manga/anime TV series, Kyoto Inferno depicts the first half of the Kyoto arc of the manga, where Kenshin has to deal with the successor to his role as the Meiji Restoration’s manslayer, Shishio Makoto, and his plot to take down the Meiji government.
Having seen Shin-Kyoto-hen, I already know what can go wrong when you try to adapt the most dramatic 30 episodes of the anime series and condense it into an OVA consisting of two 45-minute-long parts. While two two-and-a-half hour long movies is definitely more time than 90 minutes, five hours is still a lot less than fifteen.
Consequently, it’s a bit obvious the writers tried to fit too much into this movie’s runtime. What really received the short end of the stick was the development of the relationship between characters. Sure, I know why Kaoru loved Kenshin, but that’s because I saw the whole anime series and read most of the manga, but somebody seeing these movies on their own would be absolutely baffled as to what she saw in him, or why Sanosuke is such a loyal friend after a non-bonding. It’s clear these movies are made with RuroKen fans in mind. In this movie, the likes of Misao and Aoshi are introduced in addition to the antagonists. Their relationship bore little importance to other characters, much less to me.
That said, I think Kyoto Inferno did a better job capturing the essence of the manga onscreen. The fight scenes (for the most part) are far better choreographed than they were in the first film. Many of the fights in the first film involved Sato Takeru unrealistically jumping through the air and making it really obvious he was on a wire harness. While there were still a few “Wire Jumps of Doom” in Kyoto Inferno and many scenes were clearly sped up, thankfully they were far fewer in number. Some of those stunts showed the unfortunate truth that somethings that work very well in manga don’t translate to live-action well at all.
As in the last film, the real standouts in the cast are Sato as Kenshin and Takei Emi as Kaoru, though not for the same reasons. Sato Takeru was born to play Kenshin. While I was accustomed to hearing a woman’s voice come out of him, as he was voiced my Suzukaze Mayo in the anime, Sato nailed Kenshin’s mannerisms and distinct manner of speech. Sato also appeared to do many of his own stunts as the fight scenes showed his face pretty clearly.
That said, Takei Emi once again showed herself to be a casting misfire. While Takei is very easy on the eyes, her acting ability is modest at best (further evidenced in the romantic comedy Clover, which I watched on the flight home from my first time in Tokyo) and her one fight scene looked bad. Takei clearly isn’t athletic enough to be an action heroine (much less portray a kendo instructor) as she didn’t really look like she was even trying, and the shots of Kaoru actually doing something that might hurt had her conveniently facing away from the camera so a stunt double could take Takei’s place. I discussed with fellow RuroKen fans once and we came to the consensus that an athlete like figure skater Asada Mao probably would have been a better casting choice.
Fujiwara Tatsuya does deserve credit for his role as Shishio. He did a great job of recreating how his voice actor portrayed him in the anime series and he was also a great example of makeup and costuming. A bandaged burn victim like Shishio isn’t a character I would think moviemakers would really even attempt to put on screen, much less do it completely practically as opposed to using computer graphics.
Ultimately, like the movie before it, Kyoto Inferno won’t do anything for anyone outside of Rurouni Kenshin fans as they were pretty clearly the intended audience. Kyoto Inferno moved at a fast pace, leaving the audience little time at all to invest themselves emotionally in the events or characters, thus almost requiring them to do the “summer reading” of the manga first.
Stay tuned for my review of the last film, The Legend Ends.