You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Rurouni Kenshin

Barnstorming swordplay, pretty faces and a no-brainer plot combine to fizzy effect in "Rurouni Kenshin," the screen adaptation of a Meiji-era manga series about a ronin who kicks ass while preaching pacifism.

With: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Koji Kikkawa, Yu Aoi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Taketo Tanaka, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Go Ayano, Genki Sudo, Eiji Okuda.

Barnstorming swordplay, pretty faces and a no-brainer plot combine to fizzy effect in “Rurouni Kenshin,” the screen adaptation of a Meiji-era manga series about a ronin who kicks ass while preaching pacifism. The recent paucity of bona fide samurai films offering rip-roaring action (with the exception of Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins”) probably did more to usher in the pic’s $35 million-plus domestic B.O. than Keishi Otomo’s workmanlike helming. Hip fusion of Nipponese historical ambience with comicbook-hero fantasy ensures the Warner Bros. Japan production will also go gangbusters in overseas markets targeting teens and genre fans.

Nobuhiro Watsuki’s original shonen manga (comic for teenage boys) centers on Kenshin Himura, a samurai recruited at 14 into a loyalist squad to assassinate cohorts of the Shogunate. His cold efficiency earns him the moniker Hitokiri Battosai, or “killing machine.” Once Meiji Restoration has been achieved, he joins the ranks of the ronin (disbanded samurai) and roams the land doing justice to atone for his murderous past.

The pic opens with the apocalyptic 1868 Battle of Toba-Fushima, shot in stark cobalt tones, in a bold departure from the manga’s florid, juvenile illustration style. Battosai (Takeru Satoh) emerges from the carnage like a goth-band bassist with billowing mane and a crucifix-shaped scar across his chiseled face. He’s stopped short in his trancelike slicing spree by the announcement of the Emperor’s victory, but Jin’e (Koji Kikkawa), a samurai with fiendish eyes, tells him the fight is not over yet.

The story jumps ahead 10 years to a new age of modernization, prosperity and greed, embodied by the ruthless entrepreneur Kanryu (Teruyuki Kagawa). To achieve nationwide economic domination, he forces his mistress, Megumi (Yu Aoi), daughter of a distinguished pharmacist, to develop a deadly opium. She escapes and is rescued by orphan boy Yahiko Myojin (Taketo Tanaka), who hides her in the kendo academy run by Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei, “For Love’s Sake”).

Kaoru, following her father’s mantra of “fencing as a celebration of life,” tries to hunt down Battosai, not realizing he has sworn never to kill again. Calling himself Kenshin (which means “heart of the sword”), he now wields a blade with the cutting edge reversed.

Avoiding the manga’s arcane details on various schools and techniques of kenjitsu, “Rurouni Kenshin” produces its own highlights via crowd-pleasing spectacle. Scenes in which Kenshin takes on dozens singlehandedly, as well as one-on-one fencing, are choreographed in the balletic, kinetic style characteristic of Hong Kong actioners, expertly handled by action director Kenji Tanigaki, who worked on several Hong Kong martial-arts pics, including Peter Chan’s stunning “Dragon.”

Even though the 134-minute pic perks up whenever there’s an action sequence, the story is too pedestrian to engage, and the excitement dips whenever dramatic exposition takes over. On the romantic front, Takei’s tomboy image and Satoh’s equally placid bearing make their characters’ relationship feel passionless.

While Kagawa stands out by dint of his usual clownish exaggeration, other fine thesps, like Yosuke Egawa (as a police captain who always arrives on the crime scene too late) and ethereal Aoi, seem inconsequential in their flat supporting roles. Kikkawa imbues the role of Kenshin’s Thanatos-like nemesis with a diabolical power, but the way the character tends to materialize out of nowhere, for no good reason, renders him enigmatic in a bad way.

Tech package is high-end, but lacks distinctiveness.

Rurouni Kenshin


Production: A Warner Bros. Pictures Japan release and presentation of a C&I Entertainment production in association with Rurouni Kenshin Film Partners (Warner Bros. Pictures Japan, Amuse, Shueisha, KDDI, C&I Entertainment, Yahoo Japan). (International sales: Gaga, Tokyo.) Produced by Osamu Kubota. Executive producer, Hiroyoshi Koiwai. Co-producers, Shinsuke Higuchi, Tomo Egawa. Directed by Keishi Otomo. Screenplay, Kiyomi Fujii, Otomo, based on the manga by Nobuhiro Watsuki.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Takuro Ishizaka; editors, Tsuyoshi Imai; music, Naoki Sato; music supervisor, Kozo Araki; production designer, Sou Hashimoto; art director, Yasuto Takemura; set decorator, Daichi Watanabe; costume designer, Kazuhiro Sawataishi; sound (Dolby Digital), Hiroaki Masuko; supervising sound editor, Masatoshi Katsumata; visual effects supervisor, Kazunobu Kosaka; action director, Kenji Tanigaki; line producer, Koji Hirano; associate producer, Shinzo Matsuhashi; assistant director, Satoshi Tanaka. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (Open Cinema), Oct. 10, 2012. Running time: 134 MIN.

Cast: With: Takeru Satoh, Emi Takei, Koji Kikkawa, Yu Aoi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Taketo Tanaka, Yosuke Eguchi, Munetaka Aoki, Go Ayano, Genki Sudo, Eiji Okuda.

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content