Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno review: Laid-back killing machine with a past

Emi Takei (above) plays Rurouni Kenshin’s love interest. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS
Emi Takei (above) plays Rurouni Kenshin’s love interest. -- PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Review Period action

RUROUNI KENSHIN: KYOTO INFERNO (PG13)

139 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: In Rurouni Kenshin (2012), an adaptation of Nobuhiro Watsuki's popular manga of the same name, audiences were introduced to the lead character of Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh). He is a former-assassin-turned-wanderer who has vowed never to kill again. His resolve is once again tested when he is roped in by the nascent Meiji government to help stop a vicious and ruthless Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who is plotting something nefarious in Kyoto. And Kenshin's love interest, dojo owner Kaoru (Emi Takei), falls into peril.

For those who do not know anything about the tumultuous period in Japan in the early days of the Meiji era in the late 1800s, the background setting for the Rurouni Kenshin story can be a little intimidating.

But at its heart, Kyoto Inferno can be easily understood as an epic battle between good and evil. And the key to it all is the fascinating figure of Kenshin, a man who was once such a feared killing machine that he was called Hitokiri Battosai (sword-drawing manslayer). Can a man with a past so steeped in blood ever be free from it? Can a man truly change?

And yet, on first encounter, Kenshin seems more like a comic klutz rather than a highly skilled swordsman. The contrast is even greater in the anime series (1996-1998) in which he is always smiling and appears to be clowning around.

Director Keishi Otomo has dialled down this aspect of the character and Satoh (Real, 2013) does a good job balancing between a laid-back Kenshin and showing flashes of anger and bloodlust in battle.

And in a sense, Shishio is like a cautionary tale for Kenshin, of what happens when one is consumed by anger and hatred. But rather than just a villain without a past, we are also shown what shaped Shishio as he was betrayed and left for dead. Even with his face wrapped in bandages, Fujiwara (Light Yagami from the Death Note movies) exudes a glowering menace.

In addition to an epic rivalry, Otomo also gives audiences exciting swordfights and brings period Japan to bustling life.

It all builds up to a tense cliffhanger as the fates of several characters hang in the balance. But not to worry, the concluding chapter, The Legend Ends, is slated to be released on Oct 9.