The heart of the story of Rurouni Kenshin is about former assassin Kenshin Himura’s quest for redemption and atonement following his murderous rampage as top assassin for the Royalists during the end of Japan’s feudal age. Vowing to never kill again, he meets and befriends a host of individuals, forge unlikely alliances, and defeat various villains. But his final enemy, it seems, was a ghost from his past with a deep grudge with him. A grudge that has everything to do with the scars on his face and the reason he made his non-killing vow in the first place.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Netflix to pick this movie up, but I am really glad it did. The first half of the final chapter of the movie franchise, Rurouni Kenshin: The Final wraps up Kenshin’s story as a wanderer and puts his character into full-circle. While essentially an adaptation of the “Jinchuu Arc” of the manga, it is the natural culmination of the first three movies. It is tighter, more emotional than the first three and – in my point of view – had the best acting.
The Final features the best acting of Takeru Satoh to date. A lot of Kenshin’s conflict is internal, and Satoh’s tortured facial expressions really show that. He really put on his best into this final chapter, even with the fight choreography as this movie has some of the best one-on-one fights the series ever had.
Mackenyu matches Satoh’s effort as Enishi Yukishiro. He is very convincing as the physically imposing and revenge driven brother-in-law whose fury at Kenshin permeates his entire character. Enishi is a very complex character in the manga, and I was a bit concerned how they would bring him on the screen with a mere two hours of run-time. Granted, character development time was short but they at least managed to establish why Enishi was so hell-bent in making Kenshin suffer.
The one-on-one fight scenes are among the best in the franchise. Just like in the previous movies, Kenshin’s athletic ability is displayed, but it also shows Kenshin’s superior one-on-one skills. Kenshin is a much more mature fighter and mirrors his skill progression from The Legend Ends. The Kenshin vs. Enishi bout in particular is for me a much better fight than Kenshin vs. Shishio. The latter felt like slug-fest between two heavyweights who refused to die.
This one had a lot more emotion and feeling behind it, like a dialogue between two people but done via a fight scene. A clash of wills: one determined to make the other suffer, while the other was determined to stop his opponents’ downward spiral.
As far as the story is concerned, I feel that it is the tightest of the four movies. Enishi was the focus of the plot and the prime mover of the movie’s events. He wastes no time in enacting revenge on Kenshin. caring for nothing but in enacting his revenge. His aim was to make Kenshin suffer before killing him and he didn’t care for the collateral damage. It was like he was taunting Kenshin that he can destroy this wonderful and peaceful life around him and he will be powerless to stop it.
It makes for a good action movie, but it also makes you miss all the subtle details that ties Enishi to the wider narrative of the movies.
You see, Enishi’s fingerprints are all over the events in the previous films: his businesses included opium and selling firearms. In the first movie, Takeda Kanryuu was developing a new kind of opium, while Enishi sold the Ironclad warship to Shishio seen in the second and third films. But you’ll catch this only if you know where to look. A “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of proposition in that if you don’t know what exactly you’re looking for, you’re probably not going to be able to connect the dots.
This movie almost requires you to have seen the others in order for you to really understand the context. It still works even if you don’t know the back story that deeply, but knowing it makes a huge difference.
Given how much the previous movies have diverged from the source, The Final tried hard to do the Jinchuu arc justice. But it also had to focus more on being the fourth movie in a series instead of being a straight-up adaptation. It works particularly well in keeping things consistent with the earlier three movies, although hardcore fans would be disappointed that some important elements from the manga did not make it.
But those details will only bother hardcore fans. If all you have watched are the movies, it won’t be a problem. If anything else, my problem was that the Enishi plot is moving so fast, many of the supporting characters did not really get any meaningful screentime and character development.
Sanosuke Sagara was reduced to a literal punching bag, while Yahiko Myojin suddenly forgot the skills he used to fight Shishio’s men in Kyoto Inferno. I know Enishi’s supposed to be overwhelmingly strong, but maybe the movie should have shown him to have a little more fight in him. Megumi Takani was merely “there” and Kaoru has once again become a damsel in distress.
They all had a part to play in the plot, but they were so much more in the source material. Especially Kaoru, though she was supposed to be a damsel in distress in the Jinchuu arc anyway, her role in Enishi’s defeat is way, way more than what the movie has shown. It’s still there (the essence of it, at least), but never satisfactorily depicted.
It is a narrative sacrifice that hardcore fans will debate about in post-mortem discussions. But everybody else will just watch it, have fun with the stunts and the fights, and then move on and wait for the prequel “The Beginning” to be shown. Narrative sacrifices are the rule in movie adaptations, and in this case I feel that it is justified, though unfortunate. It focused on Enishi and his “Jinchuu” on Kenshin, and as a result, the movie has less dragging moments.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Final wraps up the “wanderer” theme of the four movies. The last movie in the series is a prequel so it doesn’t need a lot of setting up. But “The Beginning” will now try to tell how and why this all came to pass. The Final is still streaming on Netflix, and if you loved the manga or the anime, you owe it to yourself to watch this one. 10/10 will recommend.