Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)

Posted in Reviews by - November 23, 2021
Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021)

The epic, live-action Rurouni Kenshin saga draws to a lofty and bloody conclusion with this prequel; a neat closing chapter which circles back to the events in part four, The Final, and concluding where the first movie started – at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. By showing the origins of ‘Battōsai The Killer’ – notorious samurai-hunter of the anti-shogunate Choshu Domain – we get to see the feared assassin in his bloodthirsty glory, slicing off limbs and causing carnage with his lethal sword skills. “It’s a demon!” yells one of the Tsushima clan whose ear has just been bitten off by Battōsai. Director Keishi Ōtomo and stunt coordinator Kenji Tanigaki really cut loose in the first act, allowing Battōsai to run roughshod over his victims with added lashings of the red stuff. It’s a macabre spectacle which acts as a pure adrenaline rush, and completely at odds with the pacifism of the precious films. The film then slows to an almost soporific pace, however, when Battōsai starts a romance with Tomoe (Kasumi Arimura), the softly spoken widower shown in flashback sequences in The Final. She’s a kitchen-hand for the Choshu who speaks in ominous whispers, and Battōsai falls for her big time. The two hide away in the woods to grow vegetables and live a life of idyllic, remote bliss, as the newly established police force – loyal to the Edo shogunate in Kyoto – start rounding-up rebel fighters. Much of this is true, by the way, including the depiction of the mass killings of ronin fighters at the Ikedaya Inn in 1864. Given how we already know the ending, there is a strong sense of foreboding and tragedy throughout, and precious little of the comic-book zaniness we saw in the previous films. Instead, there is much soul-searching and questioning of the ethical dilemma at the heart of a principled assassin; one conflicted and tormented by the reluctant notion of killing people in order to restore a so-called ‘peace’. The conclusion is actually rather rousing, well-paced, and convincing enough to draw on the emotions, complemented by a luscious score. Given where it stands in the Rurouni Kenshin story arc, this one slightly stands apart from the rest in the series – and it may be all the better for it.

AKA: Rurouni Kenshin: Final Chapter Part II – The Beginning.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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