Film Review: Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends 「るろうに剣心 伝説の最期編」

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends
るろうに剣心 伝説の最期編 [Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen]
2014, Live-action Manga Adaptation
Director: Keishi Otomo

The Legend Ends wrapped up what the first two Rurouni Kenshin live-action films started. It presents jam-packed sword fighting action, on point story-telling, and a satisfactory ending to a well-loved trilogy.

The Legend Ends open 15 years back when Hiko Seijuro XIII  first met Kenshin as a young boy named Shinta. Shinta was digging graves for all those who perished including the bandits who killed his companions. Master Hiko named him Kenshin (heart of the sword) as he decides to teach him his sword style, Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu.

The next scene shows present-day, unconscious Kenshin waking up in a hut by the woods. He remembers Kaoru and is deeply tormented by his ineptness. Saving Kaoru is not even mentioned in The Legend Ends. Even tough Kyoto Inferno ended as if Kaoru will turn into a damsel in distress, Otomo-san completely abandons this possibility. In fact, it was not Kenshin who saved Kaoru. And this is a good thing. Most inexperienced directors would take advantage of this plot development. Some will get carried away, but not Keishi Otomo. Kaoru was saved and the news of it puts a smile on Takeru’s face. As a character, Kaoru is not someone who need saving. She is not a damsel but Kenshin’s aikata (partner). For a manga story, this is overly romantic.

The Legend Ends Poster
The Legend Ends Poster

Master and Student

I deliberately did not mention Takeru in my Kyoto Inferno review. In The Legend Ends, he convinces me once again that there is no one who can play Kenshin Himura as well as him.

He displays this in the film’s entirety. Takeru shows desperation when he convinced his master, Hiko to teach him the secret technique of the Hiten Mitsurugi-ryu. Heightened by the cinematic use of pouring rain, his eyes were swollen from his own tears. Takeru’s eyes twinkled with his face when he heard that Kaoru is still alive. When he shared his life lesson to Aoshi, his eyes twitched and his cheekbones beamed, and I was as reflective. His forehead flex a little as he spouts intelligent words to Sojiro. When he heard his own inner voice affirming his will to live, his eyes were drenched in tears. And I uttered to myself, finally. There’s no stopping the myriad facial subtleties that Takeru can put on screen.

His facial expressions, his physicality, and his natural moves make this portrayal a truly magnificent one. Takeru Sato is Kenshin Himura.

Fukuyama Masaharu as Hiko Seijuro XIII
Hiko Seijuro XIII with young Kenshin

Fukuyama Masaharu played a charming samurai as Sakamoto Ryoma in Ryomaden. In The Legend Ends, he portrayed Hiko’s arrogance, quiet, reflective nature, fatherly care for Kenshin, and masterful sword fighting techniques with such finesse. My only qualm is removing the sacrificial passing on of techniques from master to student in the film’s storyline. What makes Amekakeruryu no Hirameki such a powerful technique is the fact that in order for a student to attain this, the master sacrifices his own life. Exploration of this would require more time, which I understand, the film cannot accommodate. How I wish they made The Legend Ends into a 3-hour epic.

Kaoru and Kenshin’s Scenes

Much of the subtlety and the implied meaning pertaining to Kenshin’s and Kaoru’s relationship is all dependent on Takeru’s acting. Because for some reasons unknown to me, the Legend Ends is wanting of Kenshin and Kaoru scenes together. Not even a flashback of Kaoru. When Kaoru announced to both Sano and Yahiko that they are coming back to Tokyo, and right after receiving the ultimate secret technique of his master’s sword style, minutes apart from Kaoru’s own pronouncement, Kenshin heads to Tokyo.

As a viewer, I expected their paths to cross somehow. I wanted a flashback of Kaoru while Kenshin is battling his inner demons. But no. Kenshin’s happiness as he finds out Kaoru is still alive, is only shown through Takeru’s acting. The very few Kaoru and Kenshin scenes together is the only flaw I have on watching this film.

Takeru Sato and Emi Takei
One of the few scenes of Kaoru and Kenshin

While I ponder on this, some of the plot changes may have been the reason why this is so. In the anime, all actions take place entirely in Kyoto, while in these two film versions; the first one is in Kyoto while the Legend Ends takes place in a town near Kyoto and in Tokyo where Shishio is.

The second reason I guess is that Otomo-san wanted to isolate Kenshin to emphasize his inner struggle and his resolve to understand his self on his own. I am on the verge of thinking; will a film device like a flashback or an insert shot of Kaoru showing that she is in Kenshin’s mind essential for emphasis? As I said, the film relied mostly on Takeru’s acting to show us the change in his character and how his relationship with Kaoru affects his will to live. While Takeru’s acting is great, the romantic in me would still want at least one scene of them together before Kenshin’s ‘execution’. It also wouldn’t hurt Kenshin’s characterization with a few more scenes with Kaoru.

The Fight Scenes

Aside from Kenshin’s battle with Shishio, one battle I look forward to is his battle with Seta Sojiro. Sojiro is one character whose inner battles deserved more exploration because of his complex nature. However, in the Legend Ends, battles resolve internal character conflicts. In fact, one battle with Kenshin is what Aoshi needs, complemented by Okina and Misao’s efforts to save him.

Ryunosuke Kamiki
Seta Sojiro faces Kenshin Himura. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Japan

I think Otomo-san cleverly exposes this absurdity in Kenshin’s battle with Sojiro when Kenshin said, “If all our problems can be solved by one or two battles, then no one would ever go wrong.” This very statement is the embodiment of  Aoshi’s and Sojiro’s inner conflict. By making the main character comment on it, somehow, I willingly accept both Sojiro and Aoshi’s conflict as resolved.

The Legend Ends Final Battle between Shishio and Kenshin
The epic battle between Kenshin and Shishio. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Japan

The final battle between Kenshin and Shishio is absolutely perfect. The action sequence is like the anime version. I will not attempt to describe what happened because my eyes can’t keep up with their fast moves. Shishio strongly faces everyone of Kenshin’s all. Shishio’s sword is on fire, and Kenshin executes his final attack, Amekakeru-ryu no Hirameki. The best thing I can say really is, just go watch it! With this fight sequence alone, The Legend Ends live up to its worth. I also timed Shishio and Kenshin’s fight scene and it is exactly 15 minutes of film time, just like what Shishio said. Otomo-san brilliantly gives us the film’s temporal timing as real time.

More True to Life

I think that the main reason why the Rurouni Kenshin films are magnificent is because they are true to life. Characters are not in the realm of anime and manga anymore. They are the breathing representations of people who have lived during the Meiji Period.

Consequently, the film gives emphasis on the Meiji Government, adding a character not in the anime, Minister Ito. His first task as ordered by Shishio is to execute Kenshin. Together with Saito-san and the leaders of the new Meiji government, Ito devices a plan to role-play the execution and get back at Shishio. Kenshin’s supposed execution is important to the plot. Shishio is not as mad as he is portrayed. We see right before our eyes Moreover, the government is about to commit the same injustice awarded to Shishio in the person of his sempai, Kenshin Himura, the Battosai. As we learn more about Shishio’s past, we and the people are confronted with a question. Can we trust this new government?

In conclusion, the ideal of peace against the fragile foundations of the new government is the backdraft of the Rurouni Kenshin films. Because the films are more true to life, we are more immersed to the milieu and more invested with the characters. It makes us travel back in time, in a world greatly different from ours. And we enjoyed our wonderful journey. I know I did. 🙂

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