When the words "live action" are thrown around in terms for adapting an anime or manga, it is best to just pass on it before it even comes out. Unless it is a romance manga or anime, those generally tend to turn out pretty good. However, anything with action scenes tends to be about as iffy as gas station sushi.
Fans of the Rurouni Kenshin series had these same woes when the live action movie was announced. Rurouni Kenshin has been a long ended 28 volume Shounen Jump manga series that has continued to be kept alive by fond memories alone. There were two issues with a live action movie, one was that it was a long series, far too much to fit in a movie and the second was that it was a Shounen Jump series. Shounen Jump live actions were thought to be off the table. I mean, no one would want to watch a live action Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece. That would just end up a CGI nightmare like Avatar: The Last Airbender or Dragonball Evolution. Ugh..
Rurouni Kenshin, as far as Shounen Jump series go, actually does translate into a watchable, if not good, live action movie.
Rurouni Kenshin live action does not try to fit all of the story into one movie. Thankfully it adapts the first two story arcs from the manga source material into the movie. Though it does so very loosely, if only to make a more coherent movie.
The movie starts off with a flashback to Kenshin's past where he is the legendary Hitokiri Battousai, which is an assassin for those not familiar with the story. Near the end of the revolutionary war, Kenshin throws down his sword and walks away from the battlefield and his opponent Saito Hajime. Ten years later, Japan has entered an era of peace, however someone calling himself the Hitokiri Battousai is running around murdering people. In a fateful meeting, Kenshin runs into this fake Battousai after saving the young swordswoman Kamiya Kaoru from a bloody death. This sets the movie into motion, however Kenshin must struggle to uphold his vow not to kill all whilst protecting his friends.
The two major story arcs going on here are the Jin-e arc and the Opium arc. While in the manga, they are two different stories, the movie combines them. However, they are combined artfully so that both arcs can flourish while not entirely overlapping each other. Jin-e is hired as a bodyguard by the industrialist Kanryu, however they are both able to grown into antagonists as they did in their respective arcs. The way they combined these two arcs was really rather smart. The Rurouni Kenshin source material had a nasty habit of just drawing itself out and could be slow and boring at times. However, by adding two arcs into the movie and combining them, there was very little of the old 'two swordsman staring each other down and monologing' events.
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As for characters, Emi Takei's Kaoru and Takeru Satoh's Kenshin really steal the show. Of course there is the loveable sidekick Sanosuke and the bold young Yahiko, but they fall into the back seat more often than not. The film really only seems to focus on Kenshin's backstory while the others lay forgotten, but for a movie, I find that acceptable.
Emi Takei's portrayal of Kaoru was really right on the mark. She seems right at home portraying the strong and willful woman and it just makes her very likeable. Takeru Satoh's portrayal of Kenshin was also spot on. I was concerned that because of his past, they would make him brooding and wounded, however they kept true to his care-free and sometimes silly source character. Since these two actors feel like the characters they are portraying, it is easy to see why they steal the spotlight from the rest.
The only character I had qualms with was Yousuke Eguchi as Saito Hajime. It was not that he is a bad actor, it is just Saito came off as less of a cool and clever badass and more of a hard boiled cop figure. Though at least in the translation from manga to live action, Saito did not lose any of his hatred for Kenshin.
Great characters and actors are one thing though, Rurouni Kenshin is known for its sword fights. Thankfully, they did not just give the actors swords and say "have at it!" The creators took the time to bring the actual sword styles to live in this live action. I can appreciate that. The moves they used are wholly recognizable from the series and true to the characters various sword styles.
The major downfall of the movie, which is noticeable but does not quite bring it down, is the wirework. As any fan can tell you, there are a few moves that are a bit out of the range of mortal capacity. For this they brought in wirework and it is just as noticeable as it is on bad kung fu movies. It disappoints and can grab your attention from the action briefly.
Another problem I had with the movie was a lack of fitting music, or music at all. There were only a few scenes that had soundtracks and usually the soundtrack did not fit the moment. You would think they would have gone for a nice traditional anime soundtrack, you know the type, all that dramatic music and soft tones for the touching moments. Instead you get the Koto too far and in-between.
Overall, Kenshin is a watchable adaption of the anime or manga. You will not get the whole story, but the main characters really feel like a real life Kenshin and Kaoru. It is always a gamble when they try to make the leap from anime or manga to live action, but if there is one thing the Japanese can do well, it is a samurai flick. Apparently it doesn't matter where they get the story, since it is from their heritage it would be sacrilege to make a bad one. For that, mixed with this series, I am thankful.