‘Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends’ Review: The Introspection

“If you don’t know what is lacking in you, you can’t win. And if you are lucky and you do win, you can’t overcome the “hitokiri” who lodges inside of you. All your life you will suffer, you will grieve alone. You will kill again,” says Kenshin’s master Hiko Seijuro during their last training as he teaches Kenshin the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki – Hiten Mitsurugi’s ultimate technique.

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I saw the movie  this Thursday, Sept. 25 at Gateway Cinema and while watching, I was already coming up with thoughts about the second sequel and last installment of the RuroKen trilogy.

The Master and the Apprentice 

“The Legend Ends” continues the last sequence in “Kyoto Inferno” when Kenshin was seen by the seaside unconscious, when a mysterious man arrives and takes him away. We then see Kenshin in his sleep dreaming about that time when he met his master and mentor Hiko Seijuro (Fukuyama Masaharu). He was digging graves for the slaves who took care of him as a child and the bandits who almost killed him before Hiko rescued him, took him under his wing to train as a swordsman and giving him a new name “Kenshin,” which means in Japanese 謙 (ken) “modest” and 信 (shin) “truth.”

He wakes up to find out that his master has rescued him once again.

Fans can recall that Kenshin went to see Hiko himself and not like in the film. The film did better on this though, as it shows that fate made them meet each other again in the right time when Kenshin needs guidance. In the anime, Kaoru and Yahiko followed him to Hiko’s place, so this is where Kaoru and Kenshin met each other after he left Tokyo; whereas in Kyoto Inferno, Kaoru and Yahiko saw Kenshin again in a fight with Cho to save the grandson of Arai Shakku – the maker of his Sakabatou.

I’m happy to see Fukuyama Masaharu again (after Eiga Sai’s “Like Father Like Son”) in ruffled long hair, period clothes and as Kenshin’s sarcastic master Hiko Seijuro. One particular scene I would have wanted to be longer was during Kenshin’s training with him to learn the Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki. When finally Kenshin realizes what is lacking in him, and that answer is the key to gaining and using the ultimate technique in its best form. When Hiko (Fukuyama Masaharu) said,”If you understand what that means, come at me.” And then the scene is over. 

During a conversation between the master and the apprentice, Hiko asked him about the scars. At first I was like, oh he’s finally going to say something about it, but no he did not. He only said that the first scar started him drinking but all he could taste was blood. God, he didn’t even mention who gave that to him, nor the second scar. It was the shortest teaser of all about the origins of the scars. If you’ve seen the first Rurouni Kenshin film and Kyoto Inferno, Tomoe was seen in a flashback from that rainy scene and again here with The Legend Ends. This is why they should explore the Kenshin-Tomoe story.

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His famous words to Kenshin are something I find very valuable to make Kenshin fight not just for others but for himself. “Your own life is worth as much as any other. If you sacrifice yourself for others, they will not be happy. That life is not yours to throw away.” He’s saying that sacrificing one’s self for others may not entirely be a good thing, because those people who are important to Kenshin for instance will always feel guilty about his sacrifice and will not be able to move on peacefully with their lives.

Hiko Seijuro (Fukuyama Masaharu) as Kenshin (Sato Takeru) challenges him during a training.

Aoshi’s Wake-up Call 

My favorite among all the fight scenes is definitely Aoshi vs Kenshin. This one was hands down exceptionally performed by Iseya Yusuke (Aoshi) and Sato Takeru. Specially noteworthy is Aoshi’s double kodachi technique that looks really difficult (from an audience perspective) to handle but because Iseya is such a talented actor, he pulled it off excellently. It always leaves me in awe whenever he displays his double kodachi, as also seen in Kyoto Inferno vs Okina. It’s simply so well choreographed, and how the two actors complement each other with their movements is like watching them dance so gracefully. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling though whenever Iseya is on screen and adoring his beautiful nose, forgive me for my fangirling fit even as I write this review.

After defeating Aoshi (It pains me to see my gorgeous Aoshi hurting and beaten though), Kenshin says, “Whatever the past has inflicted on you and how heavy the burden you’re  carrying, I do not know. But if you ignore what is in plain sight, if you ignore what really matters, you can’t win.”

With this, Kenshin was able to clear Aoshi’s head of his clouded judgment and ideals. Aoshi then wakes up to find himself inside the Aoiya with Misao watching over him. At first he responds to her concern the usual way and that he doesn’t need her pity, even allowing her to take revenge for Elder. Misao answers him, “You will oblige me by staying alive. For Elder. For the rest of the Oniwabanshu.” It’s the  wake-up call moment and quite a dramatic one as well for Aoshi, as he was teary-eyed when he heard Misao say that to him before leaving him alone.

Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) finally finds Kenshin to get his long-awaited fight for the strongest.

Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) finally finds Kenshin to get his long-awaited fight for the strongest.

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The Oniwabanshu Leader Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) attacks Kenshin with his double kodachi.

Overshadowed – The Juppongatana 

The Juppongatana is an important aspect of the Kyoto Arc, but it didn’t happen for the live action sequels. The part where they attacked Kyoto and Aoiya was supposed to be in “Kyoto Inferno,” but there was no sign of any of the Juppongatana members during this part in the movie. They should have been given importance of some sort starting with Kyoto Inferno. It looked like they were just there as decorations. And same goes for The Legend Ends, I can clearly recall how Saito found a match with the Juppongatana’s Usui in the anime in a fight with him that got Saito injured quite badly. In The Legend Ends, Saito just defeated Usui with one strike. Usui isn’t an easy foe to begin with.  At least, the Sano and Anji fight got its share in the film that was quite amusing and funny.

The Juppongatana

The Juppongatana

The blind swordsman Uonuma Usui (Mitsu Murata) who should have gave Saito a beating.

The blind swordsman Uonuma Usui (Mitsu Murata) who should have given Saito a beating.

Saito getting wounded in Usui's first attack

Saito getting wounded in Usui’s first attack

Survival of the Fittest 

And of course, the continuation of Kenshin vs Soujiro in Kyoto Inferno. Unfortunately, I was more impressed with their sequence in Kyoto Inferno than here in The Legend Ends. In the anime, Kenshin striked Soujiro that sent him flying over, but in the film he just broke his sword. Somehow, the fight didn’t feel as important as it should be just like in the anime. On the contrary, I have to give credit for Kamiki Ryonosuke’s performance with Soujiro’s psychotic fit of rage when he loses the fight.

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Soujiro starting to lose his cool

Soujiro in his psychotic fit of rage

Soujiro in his psychotic fit of rage

I was slightly disappointed too with the final battle, although I already know from the trailer that it will be inside the battleship. For me, it was quite a shame that they decided to have it indoor unlike the anime that is something like a rooftop in Shishio’s hideout. In the anime, Kenshin lost consciousness when Shishio tricked him with a gunpowder. This is when Saito takes over but fails to overcome Shishio, then comes Sano and finally Aoshi. It was actually Aoshi alone who managed to put up with Shishio while waiting for Kenshin to regain consciousness and not really be completely overthrown by Shishio. I was impressed with the fire effect of Shishio’s sword though.

Kenshin, Aoshi, Saito and Sano simultaneously attacking Shishio

The final one on one battle of Kenshin and Shishio in the anime.

The final one on one battle of Kenshin and Shishio in the anime.

In the anime, Kenshin was almost dead when he collapsed. When he stood up all of a sudden in the middle of Aoshi vs Shishio; there’s this jaw-dropping moment wherein Kenshin is like pulling energies from his surroundings. The leaves around him started to float and then ripped into pieces with a reverberating sound, as if feeling the immense power coming from Kenshin. As Aoshi says in the anime,”The leaves are resonating with Battousai’s swordsman spirit.”  Of course in the film, they didn’t do that cause it was indoor. And the set on this part of the movie was just too crammed with so many things around them.

Kenshin in the film wasn’t in the same state as Kenshin in the anime during the Shishio fight. Kenshin in the anime was seriously injured, so the words of Hiko to him “the will to live” was his greatest driving force to stand up. This is something that was lacking in the film, as he wasn’t really that injured. Shishio’s gunpowder attack wasn’t there that could have injured Kenshin badly in the film.

Ep. 58 when Kenshin is knocked down and lost consciousness

Ep. 58 when Kenshin is knocked down and lost consciousness

Ep. 59 – Kenshin stands up

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Aoshi assuring Kenshin that not one of them has given up the fight

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Kenshin and his powerful swordsman spirit ripping the leaves violently as if controlling the air

I wouldn’t really call it a final battle between Kenshin and Shishio just like the anime. When Kenshin continues the battle before Shishio started burning; Aoshi, Saito and Sano didn’t get into the fight anymore and just let the two be. In the movie, when Kenshin reappeared, the rest that followed was him with Saito, Aoshi and Sano simultaneously attacking Shishio. Yes, Kenshin and Shishio still had their one on one fight when the three stopped attacking but it was too short. Kenshin did use the ultimate technique as his last strike against Shishio that hit him badly, but still I can’t say that Amakakeru Ryu no Hirameki was able to get its well-deserved limelight in the fight. I watched the movie the second time Sept. 29, and I noticed he used his right leg when he stepped forward, which was supposed to be his left because this is why the technique is dangerous as he could cut himself by doing the technique.

Breathtaking Cinematography 

Kaoru contemplating by the seaside after regaining consciousness

Kaoru contemplating by the seaside after regaining consciousness

Another noteworthy aspect in the film is how it was beautifully shot. A fine and first-rate Japanese film photography. Hiko and Kenshin’s scene in the bamboo forest felt really cooling and relaxing to the eyes, as if you are in one with nature. So is Kaoru’s retrospective moment by the seaside, with her hair down and being swept by the wind while she looks at a far distance.  There’s also Kenshin’s night time brooding scene as he tries to figure out what is lacking in him before he gets granted the Hiten Mitsurugi style’s ultimate technique, and Kenshin traveling by a boat as he journeys to Tokyo.

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And yes, how could I forget that flashback when he was supposed to be executed in public. Hoji recited the names of Kenshin’s victims, including Kiyosato Akira, Kyoto Police Force and then the flashback of him brutally killing Kiyosato who was then engaged to be married to Yukishiro Tomoe. The next scene showed Kenshin holding an umbrella during a dark rainy day, looking somehow saddened as he watches Tomoe breakdown in tears upon seeing Kiyosato. This scene was so grim and heartbreaking, although I couldn’t particularly point the exact feelings of Kenshin while he watches the result of his own doing. I think it was because it’s the first time Kenshin actually witnessed how an assassination by him affects the people they hold dear.

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These particular scenes all point to the reason why I titled this review Introspection, because most of the main characters had to go through this phase to realize something important (for Kenshin and Kaoru) or to clear his clouded judgment and wrong ideals (for Aoshi).

Brilliant Performances and Fine Film Making 

I have also always love the costume and production design, locations and sets ever since the first Kenshin film. I particularly like how I really feel being in the Meiji era through the film and how effective everything in the film collaborates together to create that authentic experience.

I have always admired Japanese, Korean and some Chinese/HongKong films. Most films, though not all, are balanced in commercial factor and art film factor. When they make movies, they don’t really create just a blockbuster film that’s purely for profits, they provide pure, honest and authentic form of entertainment. They’re never the Hollywood type that when you say blockbuster, it’s all about actions, explosions, spectacles, massive CGI, the most typical of all typical and very poor plot, and simply purely intended to make money at the box office and nothing else more.

The Rurouni Kenshin trilogy effectively achieves its authentic and epic scale from good art of film making and compelling performances from its cast.

Shinomori Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) in Kyoto Inferno in a scene with Tanaka Min

Shinomori Aoshi (Iseya Yusuke) in Kyoto Inferno in a scene with Tanaka Min

Another highly commendable aspect of the film is its cast. It is one of the greatest casting ever for me. From the mannerisms, expressions, behavior, angst, the aura, style, personality; everyone in the cast was perfect for their respective roles. I have more good words for Fujiwara Tatsuya this time as Shishio than when he played the role of Light in Death Note, although I did have apprehensions about his casting when I heard about it. He was simply overshadowed by Matsuyama Kenichi as L in Death Note.

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One of my favorite characters Shinomori Aoshi is of course efficiently performed by the multi-hyphenate actor Iseya Yusuke in both sequels. An actor of his stature, it’s not so surprising that he’s excellent as he always is in his movies. He said about his training for Aoshi, “When I got the part, the first thing I had to do was to retrain myself. The two-sword technique is very difficult, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, which was very frustrating, but I was reminded that frustration can be a very stimulating experience.” His role as Aoshi is another huge feat for Iseya-san, something that can be likened to his difficult role as Rikiishi Toru in Ashita no Joe.

Aoshi as he continues to find Kenshin to settle the score

Aoshi as he continues to find Kenshin to settle the score

Exploring More of the Series 

For a last installment, it’s still not enough. I hope they’d consider exploring more areas of the manga/anime series that are worthy to be adapted into live action films. But among anything else, most important is the OVA Trust and Betrayal that chronicles Kenshin in his battousai days during the Bakumatsu era, when he encounters and kills Kiyosato who gave him his first scar and meeting Yukishiro Tomoe who made the second scar. It’s a highly important part of Kenshin’s development and backstory, and influential from his battousai days to his wandering days.

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To cap of this very long review, I really love this particular part in the film but I won’t elaborate anymore what transpired here. Go watch the movie now!

1st Mid-Autumn Film Festival – The Rooftop

Takeshi Kaneshiro in Red Cliff

Takeshi Kaneshiro in Red Cliff

 

Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jay Chou are now officially added to the list of biases I have seen on the big screen.

I’ve seen Kang Dong-won through the Korean Film Festival for (5) times already in “Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard” and “Secret Reunion,” Kenichi Matsuyama through last year’s Eiga Sai with “Kamui Gaiden,” and most recently Yusuke Iseya twice for “Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno.”

I did see Jay first on the big screen with “Green Hornet” but that wasn’t a Taiwanese film. Takeshi has been a long-time bias, one of my very first actor biases so he’s really special for me. And so I did, I successfully managed to watch “Red Cliff” at the Newport Mall. I won’t be discussing “Red Cliff” anymore as I’ve seen the film before.

It was my first time really seeing “The Rooftop.” That is something for me, as I haven’t seen the movie before and seeing it on the big screen is amazing in itself.  At first I was a bit confused with the movie, I feel like there are too many elements thrown in all together in one.

The first scene I saw was at Dr. Bo’s herbal clinic where Wax (Jay Chou) works and his friends. There was this performance of girls dressed as nurses with guys in wheelchairs that was intended to make the audience buy herbal medicines from him. That scene was like watching a Jay Chou music video, which isn’t particularly a good or a bad thing.

I didn’t know the film was set in the 70s too, so when I finally saw it; it kinda felt a bit awkward. It’s a musical in 70s setting with action and a bit of fantasy. Like I said, there are so many elements going on in just one movie. And all the colors too, it was definitely colorful but I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do in every scene. I do give credit for Jay though for attempting a Taiwanese musical/action/fantasy film; combining genres in one. The costumes and the hairstyles may have been a little bit off at some parts for me, specially with Jay Chou’s Elvis Presley-inspired hair.

The film is set in a fantasy city called Galilee City; wherein people with power and wealth live on the ground and people who live of simple ways live on the rooftop.  Wax and his friends Tempura, Egg and A-lang live at the rooftop and while they may not have the wealth and power, they all seem to be happy with their way of life with their friends and neighbors. Wax is in love with an up and coming actress named Starling who has a billboard overlooking the rooftop. By chance, Wax gets to meet her in person and starts working as William’s double in the movie she’s filming with the influential actor. He also helps his friend Tempura on his side job as a rent collector for City Housing Authority headed by Rango.

Things start to get complicated when Starling grows closer to Wax. William hires the help of Big Red, another rent collector to snap photos of Wax and Starling and have it scattered all over the media in an effort to put Wax down. Unknown to Starling, she believes this ploy thinking that Wax betrayed him. Due to her father’s debts to William, she is then forced to accept his conditions by making them appear as a real couple.

By this time, the movie starts to go all cliche. The sing and dance routines are suddenly pushed to the background to focus on the film heading to serious cliche. After discovering Starling and William are now a couple, Wax is seen walking and pondering whether he should start forgetting about her, and accompanied with some sudden dancing as he walks by on a rainy day. He later decides to go see her at the film’s premiere with his friends. Tempura gets in the event without hassle as Wax, Egg and A-lang waited.

Rango finds out Big Red is looting some rental money from him and fires him. Tempura is asked to take over Big Red’s duties. With this, Big Red kills Rango and seeks revenge to William as well, because it was William who told Rango that he wanted to take over Rango’s position at the City Housing Authority. He creates a big show at the film premiere when he killed William in front of the audience, Starling and Tempura. Wax then comes to the scene who now has to decide whether to save Starling or his friend. He manages to outwit Big Red with A-lang and Egg’s help and take Starling away from the scene. And here we go again, the damsel in distress and the hero sacrificing his life for the girl.

If there are some things I did like about the film, those are the scenes at the rooftop. I particularly like their big gramophone and when they play music every night. I also love the new songs Jay has penned for the film, specially “Moonlight on Rooftop” and “You Are Everywhere.” These are the kind of songs he’s best at and not the electro/auto-tuned songs he has released lately. These type of songs are after all the very reasons I like him in the first place.

As for the film, his best is still “Secret” and I’m still waiting for that sequel. I’ve also seen him in “Initial D” and acting, story and directing-wise, it’s still “Secret” for me.

*****

 

Also tried something new at Lucky Chinatown Mall, which is a new and small yet very posh kind of mall. I tried Mr. Bean’s hot mocha soy milk. I love their tagline “Life’s simple pleasures” and their kawaii logo. I also tried Mongolian style bbq rice from Heaven’s BBQ at the food court. Lots of rice but the bbq was quite small yet delicious. I love the water bottle too at the mall that I didn’t want to put it to the trash.

So many books, so little money

I managed to still go check out the books at the Manila International Book Fair on its last day today. Good thing, they had the book fair extended until 10pm for those who didn’t make it yesterday or Friday due to the typhoon.

Last year, I bought one novel “Please Look After Mother” by Shin Kyung-sook; Naruto Vol. 62 although I bought this one at the anime convention; one book from OMF Literature; two from Black Ink Comics; one chick-lit that I gave to Salia; and three from Lampara. 

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This time, however, I decided to go with two novels: Haruki Murakami’s “Blind Willow Sleeping Woman” because it’s my first Murakami short story collection and Shin Kyung-sook’s “I’ll Be Right There,” because I think it’s as good as the the first book of her I read or even better. And because I bought two novels, it’s more expensive but both came with discounts. I was still able to save from the discounts.

Now, I’ve got a line-up of books waiting to be read with these two new additions. I still have yet to finish “The Invisible Woman,” although I’m halfway there.  And my copy of “Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami, courtesy of my brother Jorge and my aunt Mary Ann will be arriving soon. These two will have to wait a little longer, as I’ve decided to read “Tsukuru Tazaki” after “The Invisible Woman.”

And last but not the least, I got these really cute To-Do List ng Pasaway and Chorva pads from Tahanan Books. I so love their paperbag, so I decided to buy the bigger notepad so I can have one.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to buy any manga this time. I just recently bought a hefty and expensive one with Rurouni Kenshin Big Volume 6 during the Asian Premiere of Kyoto Inferno. I almost wanted to get one earlier but I didn’t have enough with me. I decided as well to not attend the Best of Anime Convention this time. I find the entrance ticket quite expensive really. Although if I arrived much earlier today, I still would have checked it out. What I like about the convention are the live performances and the manga library courtesy of the Japanese Foundation. Last year, I bought Naruto Vol. 61 at the convention, although I saw a pile of manga titles at the Fully Booked booth but I had to decide between another novel and one manga.

If only the organizers decided to extend the anime convention, especially since most people couldn’t come due to the bad weather. The same thing goes for the Manila International Book Fair, as there are requests on Facebook to have it extended until next week because they couldn’t come. As for me, I’m lucky because I was still able to go to one of the events.

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