Taking place several years after the previous film, Himura Kenshin’s (Takeru Sato) peace is once again disturbed by a figure from his past. Enishi Yukishiro (Mackenyu Arata) bears a major grudge against Kenshin, for causing the death of his sister Tomoe (Kasumi Arimura), who was briefly married to Kenshin. Enishi is also working alongside Shanghai mafia boss Wu-Heishin (Takuma Oto), who is under investigation by Hajime Saito (Yosuke Eguchi).
Following on from previous instalments in the saga, “Rurouni Kenshin: The Final” features the familiar stylish action sequences and a lot of nostalgia for the first three films. As well as the return of most of the cast, including Yosuke Eguchi, Emi Takei, Munetaka, Aoki and Yu Aoi, the film also sees the return of Ryosuke Kamiki in another superb fight. There is a nostalgia to seeing the gang back together again and taking on a fresh challenge, and with the same director, composer and cinematographer it is almost as if no time has passed between the releases. The story this time around feels like a more personal affair and Kenshin and Enishi’s backstory and rivalry is a strong thread on which to hang the as-ever impressive action sequences. We learn through flashbacks of their history together, including how Kenshin got the crossed scars on his cheek. Once again the action choreography offers an amazing spectacle, from Enishi’s first fight in a train, through large scale battles and emotionally charged duels later on, there is an endless creativity and skill in each of these set-pieces. The sight of dozens of extras engaged in combat is an incredible sight, the vitality and skill of the actors a marvel to see. The story of the Shanghai mafia investigation is given short shrift, being far less interesting than Enishi’s main plot, but again the film gives ample time to several supporting characters, helping to flesh them out a little.
Despite a run time of over two hours, in keeping with previous films, the story is well-paced and rarely drags. The screenplay, also by director Keishi Otomo, is continuously pushing the plot forward, slowly revealing details about either Kenshin’s history, or the characters around him, building up a sense of connection to events and people that allows the fight sequences to land with a genuine sense of threat. Everything about this project proves not only a serious budget, but a dedication to making something that looks incredible. The costume and set design perfectly recreate the period, while adding colour and vibrancy to the characters, building a believable world around the fantastical plot. Takuro Ishizaka’s cinematography is also beautiful to look at and the film uses light, locations and weather, to emphasise certain moments. Snow softly falling over a tragic death, fires tearing through the city, using the background details to heighten the emotional content of certain scenes. Naoki Sato again provides an incredible score that slips easily between drama and action.
“Rurouni Kenshin: The Final” sees a darker side to Kenshin, similar to when we first encounter him. Despite his easy-going appearance, the film makes clear that he was a killer and has caused great suffering in the past. Enishi’s desire for revenge is understandable and we are left with difficult moral questions about both of them. The film is one of the best big-budget action films in the genre and a welcome return for these characters.