Rurouni Kenshin: Final Chapter (dir. Keishi Ohtomo, 2021) – Himura Kenshin is ready to give up his life as a feared assassin, but his past soon catches up with him.
What is it about Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) that has every man pointing swords and guns at him? Three movies later, the final chapter of the stunning live-action Samurai X completes the bloody picture in two parts.
First, there is The Final that marks a satisfying closure to the redemption arc for the tortured samurai, whose long-suffering journey to overcome his guilt delivers as much fight as it does heart. Then, saving the best for last, The Beginning closes the Rurouni Kenshin series whole.
This is the perfect place to start for those new to the legend. But long-standing fans will find no time wasted. Once brought up in pieces, the dark past of the protector is finally given a chance to fully unfold in The Beginning. We return to the time where the man had yet to become the pacifist with a Sakabatō (a reverse-blade) and a vow against killing.
Still known as Battosai, he was a fearsome and scarless (for a while) assassin with little mercy to spare. Only his eyes reveal his hidden struggle to kill between his brutal slayings, all in the name of a fight towards an age of peace. It was the start of the end, hastened by his love and commitment to Tomoe Yukishiro (Kasumi Arimura) who sees the kindness in him.
But the secrets she hides threaten his path of atonement. A known ending to his tragic origins does not make it any less compelling. The chapters of Kenshin’s story thus far does enough to make his blood-soaked journey a gripping watch, where every little detail becomes a point of intrigue.
The protector earns a proper start and end to how he came to be, which deserves more than expository flashes. Besides, the lone wanderer has a long-standing fanbase of kids growing up in the noughties (myself included), who could only want more of the beloved episodes of Samurai X. It is not all perfect. From anime to live-action, some flaws unfortunately survived the adaptation.
Despite their undeniable charming camaraderie, Kenshin’s friends still get little room to grow in contrast to the wanderer. Given little agency with her easily defeated dojo, Kaoru remains constantly in need of Kenshin’s protection. Most others are weakened, constantly injured or abducted, if only to empower Kenshin. Caricatural portrayals also plague his lesser mates and foes, an odd contrast to Kenshin’s more grounded swordbearer.
Nevertheless, the franchise triumphs on other fronts and does so in big ways. Phenomenal fight choreography that characterises the series greatly outshines other martial art-based films. There is little need for frenetic cuts with the actors’ rare commitment to grounded stunt work, allowed to play out in thrilling fashion. The memorable battle scenes continue to impress till the end, each film better than the last.
Above all, Takeru Satoh is perfect as Himura Kenshin. Credibility isn’t just in his incredible ability in real stunts. His subtle performance evokes much sympathy in his charismatic hero’s devastating history and the difficult choices that he is forced into making.
It is an arduous journey that he takes on to emerge from a place of hopelessness to learn to value his own life, while protecting that of others. At the end of it all, the ex-samurai seems to have finally found the peace he longed for. Still, there is just that little hope in me for the undying war on crime to warrant his return in some form.
The compelling myth of Himura Kenshin draws one in with a moving story that is as gripping as its phenomenal fights.
The Rurouni Kenshin Collection is now on Netflix.