Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning Review: IT'S A KENSHIN MOVIE AND IT'S GOOD!

Release date: July 29, 2021
Running time: 137 minutes
Director: Keishi Ohtomo
Writer: Nobuhiro Watsuki (manga)
Starring:  Takeru Satoh, Masanobu Andô, Towa Araki, Kasumi Arimura, Yôsuke Eguchi, Nijirô Murakami

Kenshin Himura goes up against a mysterious weapons dealer named Enishi Yukishiro. He controls the underworld of China. The secret of Kenshin Himura's "Jujishou" is also revealed.

Rurouni Kenshin is an iconic manga and anime, and the OVA series Trust & Betrayal is one of the, if not the, best pieces of animated storytelling ever.  Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is a live action remake of the Trust & Betrayal OVA series, that puts both episodes into one movie.  The film includes the essential pieces of the OVA, including the main opening sequence, many of the characters and the events, and the overall story.  This is probably because it is also based on the original manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, but those who have seen the OVA will know what to expect.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall remake.  Sometimes when anime is remade as live action, it loses some of what makes it special.  Either the action won't be as intense, or the characters will be too over the top, or the film version won't look as bright or rely too heavily on CG.  Thankfully that is not the case with Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning.  It is either a testament to this crew or the underlying material, but Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is just as compelling to watch as the OVA.  The action is fast and fierce.  It is really interesting to see how it was translated for the live action remake, as they were able to keep the swordplay blindingly fast and intricate without making it look silly.  It doesn't look like swords are just flailing around; they are precise cuts and action just in an inhumanely fast speed.  And they have brutal fighting and special effects to match; blood sprays and spatters just like in the animated film.  The splashes of red were a big departure from the anime series, and Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning has that in spades (or sprays).  

But the movie also keeps the underlying historical and political message of the Kenshin series.  Kenshin is fighting for a new Japan, and the film keeps closely to this.  Set in the 1860s during a time of revaluation, the film notes important historical battles and victories that propelled the revolution forward.  It really captures the look and feel of the source material, with a dark style and a full recreation of 1860s Japan.  The buildings and countryside look like they were pulled right out of the past and I also especially liked how many of the costumes and characters had a historical look but kept the manga style.  

The film does change some of the timeline from the OVA, but the essential elements are all there.  And although the film does have good music, the iconic music from the OVA was sorely missed.  The film has a similar style to the music, with some dramatic orchestral tracks, but some of the original OVA musical tracks were absolute classics that I listened to on repeat.  I would have loved to hear them again utilized in this film.  But if you are a Kenshin fan, an anime fan, or just an action or Japanese history fan, this film will definitely be for you.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning translates the animated epic to the big screen, with the same characters, brutal action, violence, and heart that made the OVA one of the best of all time.

Watch it.

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Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning is available on Netflix on July 29, 2021.

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