Length: 138 minutes
Director: Keishi Otomo
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Kasumi Arimura, Issey Takahashi
Language: Japanese with various subtitles
Streaming on Netflix from 30 July
3.5 out of 5 stars
The fifth and final film in the series, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning goes back in time to the period when Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) is a fearsome assassin known as Hitokiri Battousai, which means sword-drawing man-slayer. Before he becomes a protector, as seen in the previous films in the series, Kenshin’s life mainly revolved around two pivotal persons: Tomoe Yukishiro (Kasumi Arimura) who develops a relationship with him, and Kogoro Katsura (Issey Takahashi) who makes him into a killer.
If you have been faithfully following the film series, especially if you have watched Rurouni Kenshin: The Final released on Netflix in June, the plot for The Beginning will come across as very predictable. That said, though, non-fans can enjoy the film entirely by itself without watching the previous films due to its well-structured plot that ties up all loose ends.
Although planted with multiple exciting action scenes, with the first within the first five minutes, the overall story is still as slow-moving as its previous instalments. With a runtime of more than two hours like its previous films, it may be challenging to keep its audience fully engaged throughout.
Furthermore, The Beginning tends to have subtle expressions; describing feelings and emotions rather than explicitly naming it out. While it adds to the aesthetics of the film using the beauty of language, it may not receive the appreciation it deserves, which then becomes a double-edged sword.
However, what makes The Beginning stand out from the other films in the series is how it lays out the premise of the character Kenshin, and simultaneously provides a wonderful end to the series. The Beginning could be watched first as the beginning of the Rurouni Kenshin story if you’d like to follow the events chronologically. But watching it last ironically creates a greater impact: it beautifully loops you back to recall and gain understanding of the first film in the series.
As for the characters, you will get to see more sides of Kenshin in The Beginning, supported by great acting from Takeru Satoh. The other films in the series mostly portrayed Kenshin as a relatively flat character, a kind-hearted and martially skilled wanderer. In The Beginning though, you will not only see his cold-blooded nature and ruthlessness as he carries out his assassinations, but also his struggles and dilemmas when his guilt knocks on the door. In addition, there is also a scene where Kenshin blissfully lives a normal life away from all the blood and manslaughter, albeit only for a short while.
If Katsura is the one who builds up the killer in Kenshin, Tomoe is the one who tears it down. Keep your eyes peeled for their “battles” to influence Kenshin. While The Beginning portrays the gradual changes in Kenshin after he meets Tomoe, there are interesting changes in the character of Tomoe as well. The revelation towards the end helps put things into perspective, which gives more colours to Tomoe and her relationship with Kenshin.
All in all, Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning may be slow-moving with a runtime of 138 minutes, but it impressively rounds off the film series, and provides great development to the characters.
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