- Platform: Netflix
- Release Date: 18/06/2021
- Cast: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Mackenyu Arata, Yōsuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Yū Aoi
- Director: Keishi Ōtomo
Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)
Based on the acclaimed manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is the fourth live-action film in the Rurouni Kenshin saga and wraps up the story arch of Himura Kenshin also referred to as “Battousai the manslayer”. His story began in the film, Rurouni Kenshin released in 2012. For the uninitiated, Rurouni is a combination of two words, Ruro (Meaning – “Wandering”) and Ronin (Meaning – “swordsman or Samurai without a master”). The story of the Kenshin films began with Himura Kenshin, the most gifted and ruthless assassin fighting for the emperor giving up his violent ways at the end of the Bakumatsu war.
The victory of the Meji government forces in the Bakumatsu war signalled the end of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate and ushered Japan in a new and progressive direction in terms of governance under the emperor. Kenshin who had been the emperor’s top assassin during the years of conflict abandoned his sword in the blood-soaked battlefield and walked away from ever taking another life. He wanders the lands for years and wields what is called a Sakabato sword (its sharp edge is on the reverse side). It is a symbolic possession to remind him always to never take a life and to always point the harm in his direction.
Kenshin lands in Tokyo where he crosses paths with a feisty and spirited Kamiya Kaoru. Kaoru runs her departed father’s Dojo and trains students in the ways of the sword. The two instantly fall for each other and start a relationship that pits them against enemies from Kenshin’s past. They are thrust into epic battles and conflicts that are almost always a result of Kenshin’s past actions or political inclinations. Old friends and enemies come back for him or the government that he helped set up and endanger the delicate peace and romance that Kenshin and Kaoru finally seem to have discovered and desperately want to safeguard. In Rurouni Kenshin: The Final, after years of peace and stability, Kenshin’s past catches up with him one more time when his most powerful, resourceful, and certainly the most scornful adversary catches up with him.
Yukishiro Enishi was wronged by Kenshin as a kid. He barely survived his adolescence and has been demented by the loss of his sister caused by Kenshin’s sword. He has lived for nothing but to avenge his sister. He has grown up in the Shanghai underworld and possesses access and control over unprecedented weaponry and muscle. He is a gifted swordsman himself and is an even match for the instinctive and marauding prowess of the Battousai. He wants to destroy everything that Kenshin loves before killing him in a sword fight.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final is easily one of the best and most haunting renderings of an anime. It is so not only because of how well it renders the content from the comic book pages to the screen but because the makers understand how best to transform the frames of the comics into living breathing images. They know how best to stitch this imagery together in a manner that appeals to the aesthetics of a plethora of audiences and also provides them with ample entertainment to merit multiple views. Every character in the film has a lot of emotional depth. Even the minor character. Most of these characters have been recurring since the first film. We as audiences have been on a long journey with them and in this film, most of these characters reach the end of their respective story arcs. That is always a great thing to achieve in a film as it fills the audiences with varied emotions for the characters and adds emotional depth to the lore at the heart of the film.
The antagonist of the film is not so much of an antagonist. He is someone who is in unbearable pain because of what happened to his sister and because he couldn’t do anything about it. No matter how much pain he causes Kenshin, he still fails to extract any joy out of it as it only takes a moment for him to realize that his sister is still dead and that she will never return to him. This feeling creates a lot of conflict and turmoil in his actions as we witness him do things that are not explicable in logical terms. The only time when he is at peace is when he is in battle beating people to pulp and that is what comforts him even if it is for a moment. He finds others who have different fights to pick with the Battousai and gives them opportunities to destroy the man resulting in catastrophic damages to innocent human lives and properties. The man also has a swagger and style to him that seems to have leaped right out of the pages of a comic and yet is aesthetically acceptable and inspiring. All these aspects of the character make Yukishiro Enishi one of the most exciting and laudable villains of recent times.
Himura Kenshin is devastated by the return of Enishi in his life. One look at him and he remembers every bit of the blood-soaked and violent past that he was desperately trying to run away from for years. A past that not only threatens his life but also looks poised to destroy his relationship with his friends and associates that he has toiled hard to forge by spilling his own blood and sticking to a peaceful life. When Enishi kidnaps his love, Kaoru and he has to face off against him to save his love and also not kill the man who wants to kill him with ferocious intent, Kenshin is forced to look within himself for reasons to achieve both and also means to do the same. This leads to some of the most potent drama and emotionally charged exchanges that one can expect from material that comes from comic books.
The action in the film is one of the most visceral and physical that I have seen in years. The fact that most of the combat was captured on camera and was performed either by the actors themselves or atleast by their stunt doubles enhances the physicality of it all. There is limited use of CGI in the rendering of the action and it shows. Every character has his/her own style of fighting and it enhances the appeal of the action sequences and loads it with variety. There are a few characters whose prowess we know from previous films and then there are those who have been introduced here for the first time. Thus, the action sequences are an eclectic mix of what we have appreciated from the previous films and some breathtaking new additions that leave a telling impact. This ensures that we have new things to cheer for and at the same time brings back fond memories of all that we have loved in the previous films and gives us a chance to enjoy all that for one more time. I have to admit that one needs to see the previous three Rurouni Kenshin films to fully enjoy and comprehend this film in its entirety. The emotional and dramatic impact of the film will most definitely be lost on someone who is walking into this film for the first time. In addition to that, a little knowledge of the history that forms the basis of the lore at the heart of the film will also help appreciate and enjoy the film more. All this may feel like a lot of work to just enjoy a film, but I feel that the Rurouni Kenshin films are cinematically important enough to deserve a little background work to understand and enjoy it better. There will be one final film that will be the prequel to the entire story and will be available on Netflix tentatively by 30th July 2021. Going by what I have seen so far in the series, I am excited for the final installment as it will finally show the “Battousai the manslayer” spilling blood in a manner that earned him the nickname. It will also explore his relationship with Enishi’s sister and show us why he murdered her in the first place.