(WARNING: This film review contains spoilers and loads of fangirl sentiments. Read at your own risk.)
Yes, Kabarkada retold my Kenshin childhood. Or it could have been the censorship of MTRCB during the 90s. Or was it the discretion of Studio 23 or ABS-CBN during those times? Or was it just my poor memory, which was worsened by stress and lack of sleep over the years?
After watching Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, I and my dearest fangirl friend, Amilou, had quite a long discussion. I started questioning my not-so-reliable-memory about certain details in the anime. So I started my marathon of the anime’s Shishio Arc.
Some of my biggest questions to Otomo-sensei for the second live-action movie were about:
- The fireflies
- The Kidnapping of Kaoru
- The Purgatory
- The Burning of Kyoto
- Tokyo being Shishio’s real target
But before I delve into the details, this review would give you three different perspectives: the Filmmaker’s, the Fangirl’s and Sheen’s point-of-view, which is a combination of both plus the comments of the writer in me.
THE FILMMAKER’S POINT-OF-VIEW
The film was technically remarkable as what was expected after the first movie.
However, I found the opening scene a bit dark. I actually wondered how Saito (Yosuke Eguchi-san) and the other policemen registered to the camera with very little lighting, without being too grainy and defocused. Did they shot in film or digital camera? But then, when the doors to Shishio’s fires of hell were opened, the question about light sources readily vanquished.
The fight scenes were superb as ever and I really commend the fight director, Kenji Tanigaki-san for this. The performances of most of the actors were also applaudable and I really loved how Takeru Sato did the battoujutsu stance. I would like to congratulate him for that fight with Cho wherein he was in that signature position, without showing signs of being tired, for maybe around 5 minutes or more. I was also looking forward to Ryonosuke Kamiki’s portrayal of Soujiro Seta. So far his performance in Kyoto Inferno seems ok, but the challenge would be in The Legend Ends where his past will resurface because of his second fight with Kenshin. Tatsuya Fujiwara-san’s performance was also remarkable. Acting and portraying emotion in a fully-bandaged face was no joke.
I said “most of the actors” because I found Tao Tsuchiya’s acting a bit underwhelming, especially in that scene when Misao saw Aoshi “kill” Okina. That reaction simply did not suit someone who saw the man of his dreams “kill” the one who took care of her since she was a little girl.
I also appreciated Kenshin’s change in wardrobe. The leaving behind of that red yukata given to him by Kaoru symbolized Kenshin’s attempt to rid himself of the rurouni life to venture once again to being a hitokiri. In which, according to the trailer of The Legend Ends, will be given back to him by Megumi. But why her? This is something that needs to be further explained in the third installment of this adaptation of a Nobuhiro Watsuki-san masterpiece.
I also loved that blue yukata that Kenshin wore in that scene when he changed the handle of Shaku Arai’s original sakabatou. This scene was a variation from the reveal of Arai’s signature engravings in the anime but it gave another perspective on Kenshin’s knowledge about swords.
And of course, the scenes would not be complete without the exceptional musical score. The one that sent the most shivers down my spine was the background during the bridge battle scene, when Kenshin attacked Shishio’s men who were about to burn Kyoto. It started with some nerve-wracking vocals, but instead of orchestra, drums and electric guitars followed making it insanely awesome.
I just wished there were English/Romaji versions of the final credits. I wanted to see the names of the production team and congratulate them in my head. I also wanted to know the locations of the shoot. I want to include them in my Japan itinerary in the future. I also wanted to know who among the actors required stunt doubles or if they themselves where doing all the moves.
Also, according to Rappler’s article about Kyoto Inferno, the film utilized around 5,000 talents, I just hoped they were credited because the closing billboard only lasted around 4 minutes, within the duration of the song Mighty Long Fall by One OK Rock. The usual Hollywood credits were about 3 to 4 songs long.
THE FANGIRL’S POINT-OF-VIEW
As what I mentioned in my previous fangirling entry (click here to read), I grew up with the Studio 23 broadcast of the then english-dubbed Samurai X.
It was a shame that I was calling myself a fan and not remember anything about the Purgatory, the Ikegaya or the Burning of Kyoto and even Tokyo being Shishio’s real target. But it seemed that it wasn’t only me. Amilou also can’t remember any of it, even my brother who was with me when I watched every succeeding replays of Samurai X that happened in Studio 23. We all grew up with Kenshin as a Kabarkada.
The copy of the anime that I was able to find online was English-dubbed. And true enough, the Purgatory and the Ikegaya really existed in the anime. I knew at once that my memory was not to blame. The english-dubbed that Studio 23 broadcasted called Kaoru as Kaori and Yahiko as Yoshi. This one that I found online called the second master of Kamiya Kashin as Kaoru and her apprentice as Yahiko. Kabarkada‘s Kenshin also told me that Aoshi was pronounced as Ae-yo-shi when it was really Ah-oh-shi, which was how the live-action movie and most probably the Nihonggo anime pronounced it. Same thing happened with the name of Usui.
And so I came to the conclusion that this part might have been cut either by MTRCB or by Studio 23 or by ABS-CBN (in case of the Tagalized version). Well, cutting scenes was a trend then, especially with what they did with Neon Genesis Evangelion. But that was a different story. MTRCB might have thought that burning a whole town was a rebellious insight for kids to watch during those times. And this was how they retold my childhood Kenshin memory.
The first Kenshin movie still had time to show emotion and to let that emotion sink into the hearts of its viewers. It had time for Kenshin to think and to look up to the sky. It had time for Kaoru to cry and look into Kenshin’s eyes. It also had more time for the fight scenes, it even had the luxury of slowing the most awesome moves down. But Kyoto Inferno did not have that advantage.
The fangirl writer-filmmaker in me said that it could have been three movies, each portraying around ten episodes from the 34 episodes of the Shishio Arc. But they made just two films. And now everything felt squished.
Keishi Otomo-sensei, said in an interview with Rappler that the fireflies were removed from the live-action movie because first, Kenshin’s and Kaoru’s love for each other was not yet established because only little time had passed from the time-frame of the first movie. In the anime, there had been a lot of episodes to show that love. Secondly, he thinks that drama scenes may be a bit off from the action-packed situation of the Shishio arc.
For me, a film is all about portraying emotion, and letting the viewers feel that emotion. The Shishio arc might have been concerned more on saving the whole of Japan but still, the twists had their roots on certain emotional dilemmas of the characters. So I think emotions had the right to be felt. And this is what they call “letting the audience breathe”.
Regarding the love that was not established, I think a passage of time could have worked. Kyoto Inferno could have started when the love among them was already fully established, not only between Kenshin and Kaoru but also for their whole family, including Sanosuke, Megumi, and Yahiko.
And the fireflies scene could have been saved if Okubo’s assassination happened at sunset, as my fangirl friend Amilou suggested. Then by the time Kenshin already made his decision, it was already night and the fireflies could have appeared during the goodbye scene.
But I believed the more important thing about that scene from the anime were not the fireflies but the fact that Kaoru cried. In the anime, she even locked herself in her room and was miserable days after that goodbye. And there was this scene wherein Megumi was about to slap her in the face just to tell her that the feeling is worse for not even able to receive such a goodbye. This simply meant that they all were badly hurt about Kenshin’s decision to go to Kyoto.
But in the live action, Kaoru never shed a single tear for that. There was a line there wherein Megumi told Kaoru not to pretend that she was all right after that goodbye. OK. Maybe too much drama like crying could have ruined the atmosphere but I just wished this scene wherein Kaoru was looking at Kenshin’s red yukata could have been extended even just for a few minutes, enough for the audience to feel Kaoru’s pain. Nonetheless, there were no crying on-screen but the tears seemed to have transported instead out of my own eyes. I did not know if Otomo-sensei planned it that way, but ok fine, I still cried during those scenes.
Next were the fight scenes. I wrote earlier, yes, that they were superb. But the fight scenes were put so close to each other that the audience were not given enough time to breathe again. I was still digesting the first fight scene when the next was already introducing itself. Nonetheless, they were still outstanding, but could have been more glorious with slow motion.
Next, and I believed the most important comment of all, was the kidnapping of Kaoru. My immediate reaction when I saw that in the movie house was “Why?”. First of all, Kaoru was never a damsel in distress. Kaoru was a strong woman who carried the spirit of the Kamiya Kashin style with her. And the kidnapping of the leading lady was so cliche.
According to Rappler’s interview again, Otomo-sensei explained that for him, the kidnapping was a trigger for Kenshin because, though the love was not yet established, Kenshin could not afford to lose someone with whom he shared a common advocacy with. The Kamiya Kashin style was for protecting the people, and not harming them. And this too became Kenshin’s beliefs as a wanderer.
But I was not satisfied with this explanation.
But after my anime marathon, I realized that maybe Otomo-sensei and the rest of the creative team needed something that will make Kenshin worry during his battle with Shishio.
In the anime, when Kenshin, Sanosuke and Saito arrived at the Shrine of the Six Arches to face Shishio, Yumi told them that they will be fighting only three members of the Juppongatana because the rest were sent to extinguish the Aioya where Kaoru and the others were. And this made him worry all through out his three battles with Aoshi, Soujiro and Shishio.
In the live-action movie, Kenshin and the others already won the battle in Aoiya before Kenshin went to the Purgatory so the only thing now that would make Kenshin worry the most was no one but Kaoru. OK FINE.
EXPECTATIONS FOR THE LEGEND ENDS
And now, I am really looking forward about the pay-off of all of these on the Legend Ends. The trailer says that Kenshin would be executed and I am asking “why?” again this very early. Then Megumi seemed to be playing a bigger role here in the live-action than in the anime for the Shishio Arc. The trailer also suggested that all the succeeding battles, well except for Aoshi’s, would took place in the Purgatory, which I think was a good idea because I personally don’t think that such a big vessel would sink just because of Sanosuke’s home-made bombs, just as what happened in the anime.
I am also expecting some insert of Tomoe/ Kenshin’s past during the third movie because the anime’s ending to the Shishio Arc showed Kenshin visiting Tomoe’s grave. Also in the first movie, the origin of the first half of Kenshin’s scar was revealed. Now, in the third movie, I would like the story of the scar to be complete, simply because I was more of a Kenshin-Tomoe fan that a Kenshin-Kaoru one. And of course, the battle with Soujiro and Shishio should be awesome or else…
Otomo-sensei, just make sure I didn’t waste my time when I ran after you during your visit to the Philippines. 🙂
Video from Pechu Mori Youtube Channel
Keishi Otomo interview from Rappler – http://www.rappler.com/entertainment/movies/66697-rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-movie-spoiler-interview
This post had also been posted by the author to another blog named “Nimotsu Counter.” To access it, kindly click here.