Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends

Genre: Action

Director: Keishi Ohtomo

Writers: Kiyomi Fujii, Keishi Ohtomo, based on the original comic “Rurouni Kenshin” by Nobuhiro Watsuki

Cast: Takeru Satoh, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Emi Takei, Yusuke Iseya, Munetaka Aoki, Yu Aoi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tao Tsuchiya, Min Tanaka, Masaharu Fukuyama

Running Length: 135 minutes

Synopsis: To stop Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who aims to conquer Japan, Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) arrives in Kyoto and tries to face off against Shishio’s troops. However, his enemy has begun its course to start invading Tokyo with the steel-reinforced battleship. To save captured Kaoru (Emi Takei) who is thrown into the sea by Shishio’s men, Kenshin also dives in after her but is washed ashore alone, unconscious. Kenshin recovers with the help of Seijuro Hiko (Masaharu Fukuyama), the master of Kenshin who happens to find him on the shore. He realises he is no match for Shishio unless he learns the ultimate technique of his sword style, and begs the master to teach him. In the meantime, Shishio finds that Kenshin is still alive, and puts pressure on the government to find Kenshin and execute him in public for his sins during his days as the “Battosai the Killer”. As Kenshin faces his biggest challenge, can Kenshin really defeat his fiercest enemy Shishio, and be reunited with Kaoru?

Review: Unlike most sequels, the wait for The Legend Ends has been pretty short, with less than two months separating the release of Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends. The three-movie arc concludes with this film, and fortunately most of the loose ends from the previous movies are tied up here. The film is an unabashed “fan service” film, but works less successfully if one is not acquainted with the franchise and its characters. A major caveat: this is not a movie to watch on its own – at the very least, audiences are expected to have watched Kyoto Inferno, otherwise it would be near impossible to make head or tail of the proceedings.

Strangely, although The Legend Ends picks up where Kyoto Inferno left off, the starting reels are very slow going, and narratively the film comes to an almost complete standstill while Kenshin trains with his master. Such a structure only makes sense if the films are watched back to back, and this is indeed one of the biggest failings of The Legend Ends when seen on its own in the cinema.

Fortunately, the action picks up in the second half of the movie, with some of the best close-quarters swordfights I have seen in a long while, all done with little or no CG work involved. The amount of action in the second half more than makes up for the unenergetic first half, and once things get in gear the movie becomes much easier to get into. The plot remains somewhat muddled, with the supposed political intrigue failing to make much of an impression apart from being a plot device to move the film to its eventual conclusion.

The films are filled with familiar characters from the manga and anime (another indication of the extent of fan service accorded in the films), but the end result is that many of them get relatively short shrift. The most egregious of this is the Ten Swords, introduced in Kyoto Inferno and supposedly would prove to be challenges to Kenshin, but instead are mostly nothing more than fleeting cameos. Even Shishio is missing for a large part of the movie, again something that really only makes sense if the movies are viewed at one go. Once again, the romance between Kenshin and Kaoru remain unconvincing, and their eventual reunion feels anti-climactic despite a valiant attempt at buildup.

With The Legend Ends, it is clear that this Rurouni Kenshin two-parter should never have been structured in this manner. While it is satisfying to see the full story arc resolve, there is once again so much narrative excess in The Legend Ends that the two films ought to have been re-edited into a single, less rambling film. The success of The Legend Ends is assured, since anyone who watched Kyoto Inferno would definitely want to see how the story concludes, and there is enough in the film to warrant a visit to the cinema, but the viewing experience would have been much improved if the choice was made to combine the films.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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