As its title indicates, “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final” brings the action-packed saga of its swordsman hero to a bang-up conclusion, following a 2012-14 trilogy and an origin story in “Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning.” (Distributor Warner Bros. Japan, however, will release “The Final” first, on April 23, and “The Beginning” second, on June 4.)
The star of all five films is Takeru Satoh, who is less ripped than the average Hollywood superhero but has the agility and athleticism needed for Kenshin’s one-against-many sword fights. Also, he nimbly transitions from the cool, quiet assassin of “The Beginning,” who answers to the moniker “Hitokiri Battosai” (“the man-slaying swordsman”), to the more recognizably human fighter of “The Final,” who goes by Kenshin Himura. Vowing to never kill again, Kenshin goes into battle with his blade reversed so as to batter, not bloody, his opponents.
So why the name change? From the series’ start in the final years of the Edo Period (1603-1868) to its conclusion in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Japanese men frequently changed their names to indicate a new status, to change their luck — or to hide their past.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||138 mins.|
As the story of “The Final” begins in 1879, Kenshin has shed the Battosai nom de guerre — though not his killer reputation, which seems to follow him like a shadow.
For fans of the trilogy, many of the characters will be familiar. The sweet-natured Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) is still running a martial arts dojo after inheriting it from her father — and is still carrying a torch for Kenshin. And Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki), a bumptious former samurai, is still a staunch Kenshin ally and sidekick.
Kenshin even encounter opponents from previous installments, including a cynical, chain-smoking police officer (Yosuke Eguchi) who now goes by Goro Fujita, but was once Hajime Saito, a captain with the Shinsengumi, an elite police squad fighting for the shogunate.
The plot, however, centers on Enishi Yukishiro (Mackenyu Arata), a silver-haired, gun-running gangster who learned his trade in Shanghai and has returned to Japan to take his vengeance on Kenshin. As a teenager, Enishi witnessed Kenshin fatally cut his sister Tomoe with his sword, though the reality of the moment — and their relationship — escaped him. His vengeful rage is now so overpowering that he plots to wreak widespread destruction as a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner, backed by a small army of cutthroats.
As in other “Rurouni Kenshin” films, the plot is busy and the characters are many, but it all comes down to spectacularly staged battles, with Kenshin and his allies fighting not only far greater numbers but also opponents seemingly straight out of a comic book, such as the brutish giant who has strapped a Gatling gun to his amputated forearm. But Kenshin, with his nimble wall climbs and speedy runs, is more than their equal in superhuman abilities.
Action director Kenji Tanigaki, who worked in Hong Kong with such stars as Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, brings a panache and impact to these scenes that lift them above the Japanese action norm.
Playing Kenshin’s nemesis Enishi, Arata — the son of action icon Sonny Chiba — delivers an explosive power and dynamism, especially in his final mano-a-mano with Kenshin, though he and other fighters are assisted by artful wire work and strobe-like editing.
The “Rurouni Kenshin” series may have come to a fiery end, but Arata’s stardom is just beginning.
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