“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!