Ruronoi Kenshin, review of the live action available on Netflix

Ruronoi Kenshin, review of the live action available on Netflix

Ruronoi Kenshin

For us Westerners, whenever the term "Live Action" is mentioned for a film project linked to a famous manga, it always inspires a little fear. We all remember, probably with little affection, projects such as Dragon Ball Evolution or Netflix's recent Death Note, if we then move on to video games we will hardly find any noteworthy materials. In this unsuccessful chaos, miracles occasionally occur: faithful projects, capable of understanding the soul of the original material and transforming it into a product loved by both print fans and those who have never even heard of it.

This is the case of the famous series of films of the same name from the manga Ruronoi Kenshin, known by us as “Kenshin - The Vagabond Samurai”, by Nobuhiro Watsuki; a cult of the oriental comics scenario and one of the undisputed successes of Shueisha and the legendary magazine Shonen Jump. With millions and millions of copies worldwide, and still in release with a new story arc sequel to the original story, the Wanderer Samurai has a lot of weight on his shoulders when it comes to turning it into live-action. Thankfully though, the skilled hands of director Keishi Otomo have managed to bring to life a legendary series of films that not only set a high standard in live action, but have also become some of the most successful films in Japanese box office history. And on the occasion of the release of the last two parts of the film saga, Netflix has released the entire series (or almost) on its platform.

Ruronoi Kenshin, the story of a samurai in a new era

To date you will therefore find four films, which from now on we will call in their collective only Ruronoi Kenshin to simplify. The exact titles are, and in chronological order: Ruronoi Kenshin, Ruronoi Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno, Ruronoi Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends and Ruronoi Kenshin: The Final. The second and third films are a single story arc divided into two parts, while the last is an adaptation of the latest manga saga but with a story that diverges from the original material in some places. Along with Ruronoi Kenshin: The Final, Ruronoi Kenshin: The Beginning has actually been released, a prequel to all the other films that tells the story of Kenshin when he was still Battosai the killer. At the moment, the latter film is not yet available on Netflix, but its key events are still explained in the course of events, particularly during the first film. This means that if you had to try your hand at seeing everything Netflix has made available for Ruronoi Kenshin, you will come up with a more than complete story.

As far as each of the films, except the second and the third, have events that are not necessarily linked to each other, the vision is however recommended to those who intend to see them all in the precise order of their release, since the many elements in common between all the productions mean that this is like a only great film for more than 8 hours. Starting from the first Ruronoi Kenshin, it is in fact possible to identify all the elements that make up the heart of the cinematographic transposition of Watsuki's manga: a direction strongly respectful of the great tradition of oriental cinema linked to history and samurai, a commitment to mix the elements in the best possible way. fantastic without distorting too much the basic realism and a lot, a lot of attention to ensure that the actors are as faithful as possible to the characterization of the original characters.

This last point in particular is the spearhead of all Ruronoi Kenshin, especially if you look at the performance of Kenshin himself by Takeru Sato: historical figure of Japanese TV, veteran of tokusatsu (literally "special effects" and understood as a genre that concerns Japanese TV series with a fantastic mold like Godzilla or the Power Rangers) and named in several live action projects for famous manga such as Bakuman and BECK. His skill in choreography and action scenes is evident in all four films, managing to give the correct showmanship for any shonen. Most of all, however, it is the drama he gives to Kenshin Himura that is worthy of praise, doing justice to the duality between apparently innocent tramp and murderer who has decided to change his life.

The motion of change

Ruronoi Kenshin's entire manga is mostly based on Kenshin's inner conflict, which has two aspects that reflect each other. The first concerns the historical change in Japan, with the fall of the shogunate, the end of the samurai and the advent of industrialization. Kenshin was a formidable assassin, known as Battosai Himura, in the pay of those who wanted to give birth to the new era, only to retire once he reached his goal and experienced some traumatic events. Precisely because times have changed and peace has returned to Japan, Kenshin has become a wanderer and has left his old life in the past.

The price of the rising sun's rapid geopolitical lash is a thematic pillar for all films, where good and bad all have some reasons to be more or less hurt by what the change has been. In particular, it is the change in values ​​after the iron honor of the samurai that ensures that there is no longer a path to follow, letting the movement of time and its protagonists decide how the country will evolve from then on. This path is explored in all the films of Ruronoi Kenshin, coming to be resolved thanks to the decisions of the swordsman and his allies.

At the same time, Kenshin's personal vote is emblematic, who has decided not to never wanting to kill again and to carry an inverted sword to avoid doing so. Having the cutting edge not on the blade but on the flat part, Kenshin's katana can only hurt but never deprive of life. Of course part of the reason is that from the first film it is said that wearing a sharp katana is illegal due to the new government, but it is a detail that is soon forgotten since the second film where almost everyone has one or more swords in tow. However, having self-imposed this dictat, Kenshin is in a constant position of disadvantage which serves precisely to demonstrate that it is not ferocity that makes the samurai, rather it is his desire to "preserve life" that is a determining factor even in a world intent on forgetting him.

Revenge against Redemption

As can be guessed, and as often happens in Japanese auteur films, it is not a clash between forces, but between the different philosophies that people hug when everything around them spills the opposite of what they knew. The first Ruronoi Kenshin serves the viewer to understand what Kenshin's thinking is and what he is willing to do to protect those who live with him, reflecting on how his nature as a killer can be converted into a motion aimed at preserving the lives of others. with a noble purpose, rather than in the pay of his lords.

However, it is only in the second and third films that there is the peak of Ruronoi Kenshin's expression, thanks to the contrast with the terrible Shishio : another killer who took the role of Battosai after his abandonment, enjoying the massacres he carried out with violence until the government decided to cover up the acts he had done by stabbing him in the back and burning his body in an attempt to do so disappear.

Unfortunately for the nation, Shishio managed to survive and moved by an uncontrollable anger like a fire, he started a conquest of the country. The clash between the two is actually the metaphor of the two different ways of seeing the future, between denunciation of progress at all costs and a future built on the just values ​​of the past. Here too, Shishio's performance was essential for the success of the film and luckily Tatsuya Fujiwara is a very famous actor both in theater and cinema, who has gone down in history for several adaptations of anime and manga with the spearhead represented in the role of Shuya Nanahara in Battle Royale.

With the favor of a manga that lends itself a lot to historical reconstruction, also because after all some of the characters used really existed, Ruronoi Kenshin's films fall perfectly into the oriental excellence of historical works, as indeed happens for other countries such as South Korea and China. For Japan, the feudal tradition and the passage to subsequent eras is a rich well of inspirations and cultural intersections, so much so that Ruronoi Kenshin exploits the Western elements of automatic weapons and architecture to create that exceptional contrast between the costumes of our samurai. (therefore very traditional), the dojo they live in and the rest of the world now closer to an industry than to the Japanese countryside made of bamboo and rivers. A point of praise therefore goes to the work of the costume designers, who not only kept faith with the character design of the manga but tried to make each fantastic element more plausible and close to what may seem a coherent reality to the viewer.

The merit of the inverted blade

However, there is a "but" to be included in this historical thrust: Ruronoi Kenshin was always born as a shonen comic and therefore every fight contains its dose of special moves and choreography on the edge of physics. The genius of Otomo's films, a director who has nevertheless worked with the fantastic but with a large curriculum of works more anchored to the real scenario, is to have well balanced the doses between impossible things and blade clashes typical of the samurai of the past.

Part of the reason why you won't notice much Ruronoi Kenshin's shonen soul, at least in the moments when he is not the protagonist of the scene, is also the great attention to the environments of the events and the way in which they are enhanced the places subject to urban change, where closed environments are the most evident bar of Western modernity while outdoors you will find temples in abundance and small wooden shops along small dirt roads. In Ruronoi Kenshin: The Final, in particular, you will be able to observe this gem even more, and you may notice it even more if you are fresh enough from the vision of the very first film, which has a tone and a historical setting not far away but tremendously significant in terms of scenography.

It may seem strange, for an action movie, to say that all these little elements carefully expressed to their maximum potential are actually the real strength of the whole filmic operation of Ruronoi Kenshin. The clashes are certainly beautiful, just as there is a lot of drama in the stellar performance of the actors, but it is in respect of the details and the context in which the narrative arcs of the manga are set that the work of Otomo (and of the whole production machine) takes on a special value in which love for historicity is evident as much as for Nobuhiro Watsuki's manga, perhaps more for its underlying themes than for the spectacular action to put in the spotlight. Being able to turn a blind eye to those exaggerated scenes typical of the reference genre, Ruronoi Kenshin is in effect one of the best film series for anyone looking for a truly atypical samurai film, where what matters most is the philosophy of the sword. and the bonds that are balanced on the edge of a razor without a blade.

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