‘Rurouni Kenshin’ film series concludes with epic ending, glimpse into past

©Nobuhiro Watsuki/SHUEISHA ©2020 “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final/The Beginning” Film Partners
Kenshin (Takeru Sato) in “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final”

The two new films in the Rurouni Kenshin series go into the origin of the cross-shaped scar that wandering samurai Kenshin bears on his cheek.

“Rurouni Kenshin: The Final,” which is currently in theaters, is the series’ chronological grand finale, while “Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning,” slated for a June 4 release, serves as a prequel to the series. The theatrical releases are in the reverse order regarding the time settings of both films.

Toward the end of the Tokugawa shogunate in the mid-19th century, an assassin by the nickname of Hitokiri Battosai — which literally means sword-wielding manslayer — was greatly feared for his swordsmanship.

At the dawn of the Meiji era (1868-1912), that man became a wanderer who went by the name Kenshin (played by Takeru Sato). Having vowed never to kill again, Kenshin began wielding a sword with a reversed blade. “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final,” which runs 2 hours 18 minutes, opens with Kenshin, having defeated various powerful enemies in the previous three films, now living a peaceful life with his friends, including Kaoru (Emi Takei), an assistant instructor at a swordsmanship hall in Tokyo.

One day, a bombardment strikes the Japanese capital. The culprit is Enishi (Mackenyu Arata), an arms dealer in control of mainland China’s underworld, who wants to destroy everything related to Kenshin. The reasons behind his menacing ambitions are very deeply connected to the cross-shaped scar on Kenshin’s cheek.

©Nobuhiro Watsuki/SHUEISHA ©2020 “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final/The Beginning” Film Partners
Mackenyu Arata as Enishi

While the previous film trilogy concluded the Rurouni Kenshin story, and occasionally adding an extra film to a series can overdo things a bit, “The Final” does not disappoint. In terms of action, “The Final” surpasses its predecessors, which were said to have changed conventional Japanese swordplay. Battles choreographed by action director Kenji Tanigaki are probably the best in the series in term of both quality and quantity.

Adding to the action are the quirky weapons Enishi’s subordinates employ. The long claws and secret tools planted all over their bodies make the bizarrely masked underlings look almost like phantoms. Some of them even have gun-arms. Their trick-filled combat skills were really interesting and reminded me of the unconventional battle scenes in the “Kozure Okami” (Lone Wolf and Cub) series, which were highly acclaimed overseas.

©Nobuhiro Watsuki/SHUEISHA ©2020 “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final/The Beginning” Film Partners
Masked subordinates of Enishi surround Kenshin.

Sato’s action routines have become more refined than before. I was surprised at the speed with which he was able to turn his body to avoid enemy attacks before going on the counterattack. The wire action scenes are excellent, too. Above all, he sprints beautifully. Kenshin has to run in this film as well. He runs through the town to get to his friends in danger. He runs from rooftop to rooftop, dodging bullets that are being fired at him from all directions. He momentarily runs along the side of a wall in the middle of a sword fight. It is rare to find an actor who looks so picturesque while running.

On the other hand, Enishi, who comes from mainland China, uses Chinese martial arts. His actor, Arata, makes the most of his toned physique and demonstrates some seriously powerful action. In the last battle, the muscular Enishi and the dextrous Kenshin contrast vividly.

Director Keishi Otomo creates a sense of depth and atmosphere by sprinkling snow, fire dust, cherry blossom petals and other elements throughout the mise-en-scene, which results in giving the action scenes a unique 3D feel. The friends and nemeses from the series show up in the movie, giving the finale the dignity it deserves.