Saturday, June 6, 2015

Rurouni Kenshin: A Soft-Spoken Hero

I’ll be honest; I was having a hard time thinking up a subject for today’s post. JuNoWriMo has sucked all the creative juice from my life and funneled it into a single novel, which means that when it comes to brainstorming out of left field…eh, I’m not as adept as I usually am. Fortunately, my sister walked in and said, “Why don’t you talk about Rurouni Kenshin?” Seeing as how we’re currently re-watching movies (and I just ordered the first one on DVD because obviously I need to own all three of them in time) I thought hey, why not? More people need to know about them, and there are many reasons. Let’s get started.
Rurouni Kenshin began as a manga and evolved into an animated series, video games, and a live-action trilogy starring Takeru Satoh (Kamen Rider-O) as Himura Kenshin himself. The story follows the former assassin known as ‘Battousai the Manslayer,’ a swordsman who worked for the state. At the end of the war he stops killing, choosing a way of peace as a wanderer. While swords were outlawed during the Meiji era at the beginning of Japan’s westernization (think ‘The Last Samurai’), Kenshin carries a reverse-blade sword. The cutting edge is on the inside, making it virtually impossible to do anything but wound.
Himura Kenshin is not your average action hero – peaceable, soft-spoken, often mistaken for a girl, and averse to killing, he’s more of an anti-action hero, someone who would much rather settle down somewhere and live peacefully than engage in fighting. Of course, as is so often the way of it, his life doesn’t take this turn; and when he decides to help Kaoru, a girl fighting to keep her dojo, he’s dragged into a series of events which threaten the entire empire.
A long-time lover of Japanese and Korean history, I particularly love this story because this time period is close to my heart (heroic and tragic tales of samurai and ronin have always been close to me) and because Himura Kenshin is based on Kawakami Gensai, one of the four most famed Samurai assassins of the late Edo period.
They both specialize in using Shiranui-yu, or the ‘Flying Heaven’ style of fighting, which is based on speed. These movies are incredible to watch. The actors do their own stunts and the directors were firm on wanting to use little to no CGI at all, which means that what you see on screen is the actors working hard to perfect every movement. Takeru perfected moving with an incredible quickness, and the rest of the actors – notably Munataka Aoki (Sanosuke) and Gou Ayano (Gein) – also show a great deal of impressive learning and skill.
These movies have a very pure and honorable quality that I value. Kenshin has a tragic past, but he isn’t a ‘bad boy’. He doesn’t blame others for what he did. He’s honorable, sweet, kind, and gentle – qualities you don’t often find in American screen heroes. The editing, music, acting, and dialogue is top quality, and the best adaption of manga-to-screen I’ve ever seen. The villains of the movies are dark – Shishio especially – but are shown in a light that continues to keep them human. The movies are heartbreaking and funny, entertaining and thought-provoking, and I would heartily recommend them to anyone wanting a top-notch action/romantic/historical movie that involves intensely choreographed fight scenes, tight-knit friendships, and a hero who really is a hero in every sense of the word.


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