Live-Action Rurouni Kenshin Movie Is A Nearly Perfect Film Adaptation

Live-Action Rurouni Kenshin Movie Is A Nearly Perfect Film Adaptation
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Kotaku Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Rurouni Kenshin (sometimes known by the title Samurai X) is a manga and anime series that grew to great popularity around the turn of the millennium in both Japan and America. Half-fighting and half-romance, Kenshin is a historical fiction set in the years after Japan’s final civil war and dissolution of the samurai cast. It follows Himura Kenshin, one of the civil war’s greatest warriors, who has given up killing and now wanders Japan seeking nothing more than a peaceful life. Yet he finds himself constantly confronting the ghosts of his past.

Now, over 10 years since the height of the franchise’s popularity, comes its first live-action film. And while some have worried that this film would be nothing but a cheap attempt to cash in on the name, Rurouni Kenshin truly is an excellent film and perhaps the first step in revitalising the franchise.

Good — The Adaptation

This live-action adaptation covers a mix of the first two story arcs of both the anime and manga. It deals with Kenshin fighting an opium dealer who is trying to carve out his own little kingdom in the heart of Tokyo and with a killer claiming to be Kenshin himself. The film also contains flashbacks to Kenshin’s past during the civil war and includes the story of how he got the first cut of his cross-shaped scar.

While Kenshin retains his outwardly clueless appearance — including his “Oro” catchphrase — from past versions of the story, much of the slapstick humour has been removed from the overall story, making for a more serious tone in the film. That’s not to say that there aren’t any great lighthearted/funny moments, but that overall, the story is treated with a large amount of “life-or-death” seriousness.

And as with most movies, there are a few minor changes in the adaptation — and one or two semi-major ones. But all of these changes help the movie to be a standalone film (as opposed to part of a greater series) and to give each character a complete story arc regardless of whether the manga/anime did or not.

Good — The Fight Scenes

Right from the start Rurouni Kenshin shows its excellent direction and fight choreography. The fights are very fast and exciting, with both changing choreography and camera techniques used to keep the action consistently fresh and interesting.

Moreover, everything is done with practical effects — meaning there is no CG (except for the blood spray) in the entire movie. There is some amount of wirework, but unlike that in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it is used for making the characters move incredibly fast or slide across the ground instead of making them fly — adding a bit of the spectacle without looking fake. This makes everything in the film seem far more real and entertaining than many recent CG fests.

Good — The Music

One of the most surprising things about Rurouni Kenshin was the music. While it would have been simple to reuse the music from the anime or create a stereotypical “Japanese” soundtrack heavy on the Japanese flute and the shamisen, the score instead sounded more like something out of Berserk — it matched well and made everything more dramatic and exciting.

Mixed — The Casting

The cast for Kenshin is amazing and the actors channel their characters expertly — from Kenshin and his “Oro” face to Sanosuke’s rough and tumble attitude. Yahiko does a great job in a semi-tough role for a child actor and the cast of villains — especially Kanryuu Takeda — are excellently over-the-top.

The only problem in casting is Emi Takei’s Kaoru. This is not because of her acting ability or how her character is portrayed in the plot — she does a spot-on Kaoru. Rather it is due to her look. Emi Takei is far too pretty for the part. Kaoru, as a character, isn’t supposed to be ugly, but she is supposed to be plain and somewhat strongly built for a Japanese woman. Megumi, in comparison to Kaoru, is supposed to be a bombshell. Yet despite Megumi’s actress being quite pretty in her own right, Emi Takei is even more beautiful. So while Kaoru is treated as the underdog beauty-wise in the film, she is anything but. It’s not terrible, but it does stand out as a case of miscasting.

Final Thoughts

Going into the film I was expecting a mediocre, cheesy retelling of the Kenshin story, suitable only for diehard fans of the series. But Rurouni Kenshin completely blew away my meager expectations. It was not only a good adaptation but also a good movie in its own right. The sword fighting is amazing, the directing is brilliant, the casting nearly perfect, and the story is told correctly for its new, two-hour format. Simply put, aside from Gyakuten Saiban, Rurouni Kenshin may be the single best Japanese live-action adaptation I have ever seen.

Rurouni Kenshin was released in Japanese theatres on August 25, 2012. There are tentative plans for an international release.


  • I did not know this even existed until this moment, but now I’m ridiculously excited. Loved the Rurouni Kenshin series 10 years ago, fantastic to see it got a decent adaptation!

    Dare I say that Japanese filmmakers are finally learning how to do adaptations well? Kind of like Hollywood finally figuring out that sometimes more faithful is actually better.

  • I remember seeing the original movies (Trust and Betrayal) under the name Samurai X when they originally came out over here on VHS and really getting into their dark, bloody vibe. But then when the series came out I was surprised that it had changed so much since the original two movies, it was all bright colours, overly stylized art and lame jokes like all the other run of the mill anime, which turned me straight off.

    • You have it the wrong way round. Trust and Betrayal came out after the series.
      Even in the manga, trust and betrayal were flashbacks, set in the past.

    • I agree with your opinion on the series, it’s unnecessary jokes, cartoonish anime style, it’s run of the mill cheap feel, but the problem with your “I got to watch them first” hipster story is that Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal came out After the series.

  • I hope, when it shows in the US, itll be in english…i feel that reading the subtitles makes you miss a lot of the action.

    • I really very sincerely hope they don’t dub this. I tried to give American VAs the benefit of the doubt given they’re almost always pulled from a little pool that can work cheap and fast for whatever studio bought the rights. Not to mention the “WE MUST AMERICANIZE THIS OR IT WILL SUCK BALLS!” mentality that most of the idiots dropping the money seem to hold dear.

      But the American VAs lack the PASSION the original actors and VAs give to their roles. And without fail, the dub always cuts out so much in the attempt to match lip-flap that it loses serious parts of the dialogue and story.

      When this is available to the US, I’ll only watch it if it has a properly subtitled version. It sounds snobbish, I’m sure, but I can’t stand the dub versions. With the reviews from Japan all coming out so good, there’s no way I want to see a butchered, Americanized version just for the sake of not having to “read.” If you feel like it’s distracting to have to read another language during a movie, here’s a thought~!

      Learn to read faster.

      • I hate hearing this over and over and over. It’s a cartoon. The voice acting is supposed to be edgy and fun…I happen to like a LOT of the american voice actors. Johnny Yong Bosch is really fun to listen to, Vic Mignogna is another really good voice actor. But that’s not really what bothers me. And I’m not saying it to you in specific…but this neo-anime-hipster attitude all of my friends have towards (unchanged japanese VA’s) BULLSHIT!!!!! Go live in Japan for 16 years, learn the language and its inflection perfectly AND THEN cast stones at the american voice actors….Most of these people have NO DAMN CLUE if the voice actors are good or not. But I will say that 40% of entertainment is immersion, and you don’t have that with the language barrier. As for dubbing…In live action I tend to not like it because it doesn’t sync with the lips. But get the fuck off this purist Japanese VA bandwagon.

    • The movie I saw in the theatre had subtitles, and some translations were off. If you can’t understand Japanese, you won’t notice it, though.

      By the way, this review is spot on. I just don’t agree with the soundtrack commentary. It sounded too western for my taste.

  • I happen to be one of those die hard addicts of Rurouni Kenshin. I sure hope there’s an international release, especially in Australia which misses out on quite a number of new releases of not just the anime/manga but movies in general. The first trailer got me very intrigued to actually go and see what sort of adaption they did. After reading this article has made me want to watch it more. But what I have seen of the trailers, I have to agree that the part of Kaoru has been miss-casted . The role of Kenshin is spot on

  • oh my gosh i really really want ot see this movie i have been saying to my freinds for years that this would be the best freakin movie ever and look its out i want it now i am a die hard kenshin fan i have and always will love kenshin i know so much about the real person and the animes and i love this is making me so excited i hope the release it really soon this would be the best present ever

  • I want to see this movie… The character of kenshin is so unique…

    An orphan, alone and a slave… raised in modest way and pure heart…
    Until now, i cannot forget this anime, it is full of hope and forgiveness… It is far unique than any other anime… a humble character running away from dark past, painful memories and trying to live in light… Seeking forgiveness, peace and a true happiness…
    And a woman with full of love and understanding until the end…
    what a great movie!!!

  • I was exciting wen i heard there as a live action of rurouni kenshin.. i liked tha story but loved tha action scene. Especially flawless drawing sword skills.. they definitly gettn my money n hope they do good on there sells or whatever. Because i want them to work on the second part. I want see aoshi,sejiro makoto shishio n mostly mu favorite of all hiko. Kenshin master. Even though they haven’t mention him.. which this is main person i was lookn to c in the movie hope they least make. Small scens of him teachin or trainin.. but either way ill like it. Cause i see kenshin still got me actin a fool with all those moves he was doin through tha fight swirlin,flip n etc. Tha mind. I was like yep tha kenshin alright!!!

  • Does anyone know where I would find a torrent of the movie or sumthin like that? I dont care if its not subtitled, I just want to be able to watch it…

  • i…i…i… have got to see this do i have to faly to japan just to see this movie lol. i mean i really dotn care watching this is Japanese… but i really hope this comes to the use in any way i love the manga and anime and would really love to see this

  • I was lucky enough to catch this at the Toho Cinema in Roppongi Hills when I was on vacation in Japan last week, fantastic adaptation. I do agree with the reviewer except that I don’t think the actress that plays Kaoru is too pretty. Perhaps it’s my own Asian perspective but I feel her look is more of the Japanese “cute and plucky” aesthetic. I do hope they eventually release this in the US or put it out on DVD.

  • I saw it on my plane ride back to States. It was fantastic.
    It was great almost identical to the OVA, I can’t what for the next one!

  • I saw the movie in japan it was ausom when sugosay said joto mota when they were in the middle of a fight to eat some food and a raw egg

  • HOW CAN I WATCH THIS!!!???? ……. I am willing to pay $$ to watch this, but living in the US i havent find a place to buy-rent-stream it!!

  • I’m dying here! Rurouni Kenshin is my all time favorite anime and I have been going crazy here in the U.S. trying to see this movie! Please is there not any other way to stream this online? I am more than willing to pay for it… I just want to see this already! This is why I wish I lived in Japan…

  • the casting may be mixed but they made it work so even tho it’s not as spot on as the others, it just worked…saito for one is too goodlooking for the role IMO, but i’m cool with it LOL

    • @Priss Unfortunately it’s already here for the Japanese film festival but both showings are already sold out. Now I can only hope it gets a wider release

  • The film was released Dec 5 here in Philippines and I just saw it yesterday. And really, the film blew me away. Casting is perfect. I really really like everyone. Though I think it would have been better if Ginei is replaced with Enishi. But considering that the history between Kenshin and Tomoe was not really tackled in details, guess that explains why Enishi wasnt placed.

    I don’t know if this film should spawn a sequel but I REALLY hope it does. 🙂

  • I watch this movie twice. And I want to watch it again. My first time I watch the movie I was late for 15 minutes, it supposed to be 10 minutes, when I was arguing with the lady on the ticket booth. I heard that it will be the last day to be played. And I can’t wait for the last full show of the day since it was Friday and Friday is my first day after my rest day. Since, there are some request that it will be extended for another week. I don’t waste my time and reserve a seat 15 minutes before the show.

  • I just watched this movie and I loved the Anime when i was younger. This movie was an awesome adaption, the only thing that go to me was the rubber sword props, they are pretty bad. But i agree with this review, the characters of Kenshin and Sanosuke were spot on 😀

  • All I have to say is that…I’m glad America didn’t do the production because DBZ was a failure. Glad japan has made something that fans worldwide has loved for years. Looking forward to watching it! <3

  • i have just finished watching the movie. I am highly disappointed with it. This is NOT a good adaptation. For any fan who watches this movie i will not spoil it but i will say that the true fans of kenshin are going to be disappointed. the characters appear out of sequence and is only about 40 percent true to the tv series that was aired. i stopped about halfway through the movie because i was so upset as to how they totally disregarded the storyline and characters, where is Aoshi, and the other missing members from the Oniwaban Group in Kanryu’s Mansion. Sanosuke appears too late, how Meguymi aquired the assistance of Kenshin is TOTALLY wrong. I can go on and nit pick at least one error every 5 minutes.
    TOTALLY DISAPPOINTED WITH THIS MOVIE. Please i beg you, if you are going to make a sequel GET YOUR FACTS TOGETHER! Monk Anji did not even appear in the series until Shishio was on the scene. WHY IS HE AT KANRYU’S ESTEATE? COME ON!!!!!

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!