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Rurouni Kenshin - Kyoto Inferno
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by Jay Seaver

"Superior samurai sequel."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The first "Rurouni Kenshin" movie had the look of a franchise starter in the best sort of way, an introduction to an appealing setting and group of characters that leaves the door open for new adventures. The second follows through on that promise, delivering a bigger adventure with even higher stakes, and its a fine place to start on its own.

In November 1878, a maniac murders dozens inside a Hyogo mine. He is Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a samurai who took on the role of assassin when "Battosai" laid down his sword ten years ago, until the new Meiji government found him a liability, though the attempt to eliminate him only resulted in his being badly burned. Now that he has re-emerged as a terrorist, the government calls upon the former Battosai, Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sota), despite his pledge not to kill that extends to carrying a "back-bladed" sword with a blunt leading edge. But with a monster like Shishio...

This isn't just a one-on-one match between Himura and Shishio, of course - Shishio has a fair number of mercenaries working for him and other followers, including the ominously named Ten Swords. When Himura makes a couple of new friends on the road to Kyoto, including Misao Makimachi (Tao Tsuchiya), it looks for a while like the series is going to go full wandering-ronin and leave the last movie's supporting cast behind after a relatively brief reprise at the start, but that's not the case, and as a result things are actually fairly crowded by the end. It feels a bit like director Keishi Otomo and his co-writers Kiyomi Fujii & Nobuhiro Watsuki are trying to fit a lot of Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga (published as "Samurai X" in the United States) into three movies that can't quite expand and contract or give the audience time to pause and process the way that comics can.

Even with a couple of extraneous subplots, this is still quite a satisfying, fast-paced movie. Otomo and company have progressed the themes of the first movie in a way that doesn't change its heart too much, with Himura worried more about becoming the man he was rather than whether he deserves to be treated as a human being now, and play up the uncertainty brought about by the end of an era without having anybody but the lunatic villain actually miss the shogunate. For a movie with a large cast, there's very little filler to keep everyone busy or on-screen, and the detours are enjoyable.

Plus, the action is great. The filmmakers start things off with a downright hellish opening sequence that is thrilling but also shockingly effective at how it establishes Shishio as a monster. The one which shows how he got burnt yet didn't die is clever, too - Otomo and cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka take a sequence that could leave Shishio sympathetic - he is ambushed, set on fire, and let for dead - and make the snow look like ashes, a descent rather than a rebirth. Most of all, though, there are the swordfights. Just like in the first movie, they're faster-paced and more acrobatic than traditional samurai movie duels, with some American-style swashbuckling added to the Hong Kong-style action. Otomo gets in close without making things choppy, all the better to let the audience see how Himura's emotions are playing out and whether this is becoming more of a rush than a desperate necessity.

I still think Takeru Sota looks a bit young to play a character who, having built a reputation he walked away from a decade ago, should at least be in his mid-thirties, but it works better here than last time, and he's got any easy, unforced chemistry with Emi Takei. Tatsuya Fujiwara does most of his work behind bandages and makeup - kind of a surprising choice for a good-looking young actor - but he dives into this villainous part with relish, getting the audience to believe he embraces his role as a monster without the need to justify it. The other newcomers are strong, too: Tao Tsuchiya fills the spot of capable-with-a-sword ingenue that Takei's Kaoru has somewhat outgrown without repeating it, and Min Tanaka is a delight as her grandfather, an innkeeper who seems to have come to enjoy that as much as the other career he never officially retired from. Yusuke Iseya gets dropped into a role that mostly seems extraneous here, but will likely become more important in the next installment.

That things are being pushed off for a third movie - the ominously-titled "The Legend Ends" is due for Japanese release in September, hot on the heals of "Kyoto Inferno" - is a bit of a disappointment, especially for those of us who walked in not realizing that this was a "one plus two" trilogy. Nothing wrong with those, though, and the "Rurouni Kenshin" series is seeing itself as a superior example if the third party lives up to the first two.

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originally posted: 08/12/14 12:22:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/15/14 yuyuloadmovie really special,, I follow the steps and correct, I get what I want, after clicking thi 3 stars
8/31/14 Vivi Amazing 5 stars
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Directed by
  Keishi Otomo

Written by
  Keishi Otomo
  Kiyomi Fujii
  Nobuhiro Watsuki

  Takeru Sato
  Yű Aoi
  Emi Takei
  Munetaka Aoki
  Tatsuya Fujiwara

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