“A worthy conclusion of one of the best Japanese action duologies ever made.”
After a failed attempt to save Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei) and defeat Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara), Himura Kenshin (Takeru Sato) washes up on the shore, unconscious. Kenshin happens – with a stroke of luck – to be found by his old swordfighting master Seijuro Hiko (Masaharu Fukuyama), who takes him home for recovery.
While the steel warship of Shishio Makoto is steadily advancing to Tokyo, terrorizing villages along the coast, Kenshin – after waking up – asks his former master to train him. Seijuro is quickly to recognize that something is holding Kenshin back and that he’s weaker than he was before. He urges Kenshin, by way of training, to find his inner peace and to restrain his devils of his past. Kenshin, on the other hand, asks his master to teach him the ultimate technique of his style of swordsmanship.
Meanwhile Shishio, knowledgeable of the fact that Kenshin is still alive and the fact that he has the upper hand with his piece technology, pressures the government to arrest and execute him publicly for his past crimes. Can Kenshin defeat Shishio and reunite with Kaoru?
Even though the major plot points of the previous film, the points that form the starting structure of this movie, are brought in remembrance, it’s necessary to have watched Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto inferno – I would even propose to watch the two movies after each other. The main premise – it’s actually fun to write it – is laid out in the first twenty minutes of the previous movie. In other words, the narrative backbone of The legends ends and the deepening of the historical setting in which the movie takes place is primarily to be found in the previous movie. There is minor attention to aspects of the historical setting though e.g. the way the newspapers get sold, the fishermen, the Meiji police and their western looking headquarters, the execution ceremony, … .
But notwithstanding these historical aspects and the resolution of subplot of the former ninja leader, Shinomori Aoshi (Yusuke Iseya) who’s hunting Kenshin, the plot is solely focused on the coming confrontation between Kenshin and Shishio, while the other main concern is, obviously, the staging of the action scenes.
Rurouni Kenshin: The legend ends presents the viewer nothing more than a very common Shonen narrative structure. The hero, after having failed to defeat the villain, must be become stronger as to be able to destroy that same villain. But there’s another plot twist, commonly used in Shonen narratives, present: the enemy of the hero is also the enemy of another enemy, on the sole motivation of wanting to defeat the hero himself.
As this movie is part of a duology – maybe it’s better to describe this as a part of one movie who was cut in two – we don’t have to except any character introductions whatsoever. Like we said in our review of Kyoto inferno this reveals the expectation that the viewer has read the manga or at least saw the movies. This is most evident in lack of introduction – he was ample present in the second movie – of Hoji Sadojima (Kenichi Takitoh), the overly villainy trigger-happy firearm specialist.Only people who’ve read the manga will have a deepened understanding of his functioning in the narrative; the presence of other side characters, like Yahiko Myojin (Munetaka Aoki) and Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi) – both characters getting more screen time – for example, also rely primarily on the supposed knowledge of the viewer. But as we mentioned in our review of Kyoto inferno, it’s in no way necessary to have this prior knowledge..
The aspect of the Kenshin-tension (see review of Kyoto inferno) is, given the narrative structure and plot, not present anymore, but that has everything to do with the training Himura Kenshin receives from his master. The ‘transformation’ of Kenshin reveals another side of his character and deepens his psychological profile: because of his past, he feels not worthy to be alive; the only way to become stronger and to have a chance to defeat Shisio, is to find a willingness to life. It’s only by virtue of his master, who gives him the symbolic permission to be alive, that enables Kenshin to become stronger and put his devils to rest. The narrative thus features a strong willed Kenshin and his choice not to kill anyone unravels not as a way to flee his past, but as a way to life. One aspect that evidently – the narrative briefly touches upon it in the beginning and in the end – helped Kenshin embrace this way of life as a wanderer are his romantic feelings for Kaoru.
Concerning the lack of the kenshin-tension, we need to add that there’s a narrative element – Shishio can’t fight longer than 15 minutes or … – in the final battle with Shishio that replaces this tension. This aspect really succeeds in keeping you on the edge of you seat.
Like mentioned in the above, this movie primary concerns are the final battle between Shishio and Kenshin and the staging of the action. Given the fact that the story doesn’t take place in a city or any other historical places, there’s no vigorous attention to historical details. The historical setting is underlined solely by the costumes, see Itō Hirobumi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), a historical character and the police for example, and other minor aspects like the selling of the newspapers, the fishermen, the western looking headquarters of the police, the execution ceremony, … .
The lack of story complexity and the lack of vigorous attention the historical background, is more than made up by the magnificent and energetic action scenes – maybe even the best Asian action scenes of the last couple of years. The crispy paced action scenes bear witness of an extraordinary editing talent, directorial vision and love of action and the source material. Once againRurouni Kenshin provides the action lover with exceptional choreographed action – courtesy of Kenji Tanagaki – full of inventive moves; the attention to the acrobatics of Kenshin are a real treat. The use of slow-motion elements in the action scenes are added value, enabling the viewer to appreciate en enjoy the action to the fullest.
The entire final third of the movie is one long stretched action sequence. What starts as several one-on-one battles, ultimately ends in an exhilarating four-on-one battle with Shishio. Whereas the previous movie excelled in an showing an epic action sequence, grand in style, The legend ends excels in choreographing and equally epic, but far more intimate final action scene. In short, the final four-on-one battle is sublime. What could have botched up quite easily, excels in every aspect.
Rurouni Kenshin: the legend ends is a great action movie, just like the previous movies were. It may lack the rich historical setting expounded in Kyoto inferno, but it nevertheless succeeds in being grounded in the early Meiji period, by way of paying attention to small details and because of the way the previous movie realized the narrative structure, which forms the backbone of this movie. Where the legend ends really excels in is the staging of the action sequences. The phenomenal choreography of the action scenes are a joy to watch and even to rewatch.
The second part of the Kenshin duology is, like its predecessors, a movie oriented to the fans of the manga. Even though it boots a narrative that doesn’t alienate newcomers, i.e. people who didn’t read the manga or saw the anime, this movie does alienate people who didn’t saw Kyoto inferno. Ultimately it’s a movie that rewards the fans, even though the narrative doesn’t truthfully renders the story of the manga.
In the end all I can say that The legend ends is a worthy conclusion of one of the best Japanese action duology ever made. It’s a love song to action, a love song to choreography, a love song to swords, but most importantly it’s a love song to Rurouni Kenshin itself.