Spoiler-free review of 'Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno'

Posted at 08/07/2014 1:31 PM | Updated as of 08/21/2014 3:52 PM

The director and three of the stars of “Rurouni Kenshin” arrived at SM Megamall on Wednesday for the Asian premiere of “Kyoto Inferno,” the first of the two sequels of the 2012 blockbuster hit.

Manila was chosen as a venue for the Asian premiere, with good reason – “Rurouni Kenshin” did so well in the Philippine box office that it called for several extensions, with almost each screening drawing loud cheers from both hardcore fans and first-time viewers.

And with “Kyoto Inferno” set to be screened here starting August 20, Warner Bros. Philippines is expecting so much more.

“Kyoto Inferno” covers the first half of the popular Kyoto Arc of the “Rurouni Kenshin” manga and anime. Manslayer-turned-wanderer Kenshin Himura (Takeru Satoh) finally finds a peaceful home in a dojo run by Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei), only to be asked by a government leader to pick up his sword once again and kill one last time for the sake of Japan.

The opponent, as seen in the trailers, is the heavily bandaged Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the manslayer who succeeded Himura after the latter decided to assume the life of a wanderer. Shishio, with his army and Juppongatana group of swordsmen, plans to take over Japan as his revenge to the government that betrayed him.

Of course, a lot of things happen in between – from dramatic goodbyes to pocket fights and the occasional comic relief that the “Rurouni Kenshin” series is known for – and all these are set against well thought out backdrops.

Director Keishi Otomo did a great job in fitting a massive amount of material from the Kyoto Arc into a coherent film that runs for a little over two hours. Of course, this entails a lot of sacrifices which may cause some fans to shake their heads – from altered scripts and backstories to glaring changes in the sequence of events.

Perhaps the most disappointing is the lack of attention to an important character in the series – Aoshi Shinomori (Yusuke Iseya), the genius young leader of the Oniwabanshu undercover agents. Since he was bumped off in the first movie, his introduction in “Kyoto Inferno” felt a bit rushed – if not lazy – affecting the development of other characters such as Misao Makimachi (Tao Tsuchiya), Okina/Nenji Kashiwazaki (Min Tanaka) and the rest of the Oniwabanshu. Acting-wise, however, Iseya, Tsuchiya and Tanaka exceeded expectations.

Fujiwara, the usual go-to bad guy for Japanese films, gave a stellar performance as the bloodthirsty and arrogant Shishio, while Ryunosuke Kamiki seems to be a perfect fit for the bandaged manslayer's right-hand man, Sojiro Seta.

Ryunosuke Miura was a pleasant surprise as Sawagejo Cho, who battled Himura during his search for a new sakabato (reverse-edged sword). Not much can be said about the rest of Shishio’s Juppongatana – even the half-Filipino, half-Japanese Maryjun Takahashi (who takes on the role of Shishio’s lover Yumi Komagata) – since they only made cameo appearances.

Just like in the first movie, expect top-notch acting from Satoh and the rest of Himura’s gang. Kaito Oyagi was just as good as – if not better than – Taketo Tanaka in portraying the role of the orphan Myojin Yahiko. Yosuke Eguchi remains tough and intimidating as Hajime Saito as he casually kills enemies while smoking a cigarette.

While its main purpose is to lay the foundation for the epic conclusion that is “The Legend Ends,” “Kyoto Inferno” is a beautifully crafted film that is able to stand on its own merits. As with the first movie, “Kyoto Inferno” is expected to be a hit among fans and casual viewers alike.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5