Tag Archives: Samurai

Cinema-Maniac: Rurouni Kenshin (2012) Movie Review

Adaptations of any sort of property can be tricky. Besides appealing to the original source material fanbase (if there is any) comes with the decision of how exactly to adapt the source material into a new medium. If it’s made specifically for fans like the 2005 Joss Whedon’s film Serenity than newcomers probably won’t get much out of it like fans would. Especially when the best counter-argument against it not standing as its own creation is checking out supplementary material (which happened in my case). Regardless if the film adaptation was preceded by a TV Series, comic-book, or other sources the adaptation in a different medium should be able to stand on its own. Coming from someone who has never read a single chapter of the manga, or seen a single episode of the anime series related to Rurouni Kenshin this live action film adaptation can be enjoyed as its own creation. It’s a great film adaptation, and an equally engaging samurai film.

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I can relate. This is typical reaction when I talk to a woman.

 

Rurouni Kenshin follows former legendary assassin Kenshin Himura (played by Takeru Satoh) who has now become a wandering pacifist samurai with his new beliefs being challenged in Tokyo. From the opening action sequence right to the end Rurouni Kenshin always feels confident in where it’s heading. Expertly knowing how to setup the social climate of Tokyo where the story takes place. Distinguishing through some characters their struggles to find a new purpose in an era that seemingly in no need of Samurai’s. One moment in the beginning of the film shows villain Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) ringing a bell singling former Samurai warriors it’s time for dinner. Small details like these help get across the idea of how difficult it could be for a Samurai to adapt to an new era of living. When the story jumps from it subplots including one of an assassin killing using Battosai name it does not feel overwhelming to keep track off. This theme of finding a purpose is explored heavily keeping its main story focus as it introduces more characters in the story while continuing other story threads.

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You will come to the dark side Kenshin.

Kenshin leads the overall narrative with his main conflict attempting to live a new life away from his former assassin ways. One aspect on writing characters that generally isn’t understood is every action you have your main character perform can develop them. In this film, writers Kiyomi Fuji, and Keishi Ohtomo understood this using Kenshin playful attitude to highlight his struggling ordeal. In some scenes Kenshin has a good time talking to other characters, but in others scenes he get thrown back into his Samurai fighting instincts. As the film progresses the line between famed assassin Hitokiri Battosai, and Kenshin Himura grow closer together. His backblade katana named the Sakbato Kageuchi, for instance, demonstrates Kenshin practicing his beliefs. The way Kenshin fights with careful calculation with a Sakbato Kaeuchi is different from the brief moments when Kenshin is shown fighting with a regular blade instinctively with ease. This builds upon Kenshin as a protagonist as it’s a trait that is treated as part of his character instead of a plot device.

Characters in the film will challenge Kenshin as he attempt to maintain his pacifism. The film takes it time exploring Kenshin motivation for his new ways becoming an engaging lead character as well as an entertaining one. By the end of the film, there’s still room left over for Kenshin to grow as a character while not downplaying his battles to maintain his ideals. This is accomplished by having Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) be a unsubtle villain. Upon the first time Kanryu Takeda appears on screen there’s no misleading the viewer that he’s clearly evil, and seek to only make money. Kenshin constant refusal to become battosai no matter who asks him attributes to Kenshin growth as well display the need of capable fighters. Supporting characters don’t receive the same degree of exploration, but are given specific roles such as comedy relief with Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki), eventual damsel in distress Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi), adversary with Jine Udo (Koji Kikkawa), and even just plain badass bad guy with Gein (Gou Ayano). The ones that do recieved development are Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei), and Saito Hajime (Yosuke Eguchi) both of whom are moving on from a turning point event of their past. While both pursue different goals they can relate to Kenshin the most either offering playful banter, or some dialogue on adapting to change.

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Come on kid. Give us your lunch money.

Contributing to the film’s biggest problem is obviously having too many characters. It’s villain, Kanryu Takeda, appears infrequently in the film, and when he does appear it’s usually accompanied by music. When Takeda executes his evil plan it comes out of nowhere without proper build up aside from one scene that establish he sells drug, and one brief scene where he explicitly says to poison the water. That’s not good buildup since this eventually leads to the film largest set piece. However, this issue isn’t as harmful as it could have been. Every character serves a purpose at some point in the story with varying degree of significance. Be it to help Kenshin fight off a dozen of Kanryu goons, or to arrest one of the main villains. Each character at some point in the film contribute to a larger story by being given simple character arcs, but treated as characters instead of plot devices that only serve to progress the story. One aspects of the film that can’t be overlooked is Jine Udo supernatural ability in the film. Jine has the ability to cast a spell that can paralyze his opponent lungs. This ability is out of place with the film world which makes itself grounded for a majority of the film. At most, you get human performing superhuman feats like outrunning bullets that could come across as far fetched as Jine’s ability. Those moments aren’t out of place since they’re being performed by people whereas Jine Udo paralyzation ability comes across as plain magic.

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The film has an awesome cast, and cool to look separating it from other Samurai films.

Taking charge as Kenshin Himura is leading star Takeru Satoh. Performance in the film is very good portraying different sides of Kenshin. Satoh perfectly fits his character as he neither looks like an assassin, nor like a man with a tormented past. His looks are deceiving, but when it comes to displaying Kenshin true nature he balances the torments, and playfulness of Kenshin. Takeru Satoh shows restraint in his delivery which contributes to his character change. Koji Kikkawa delivers the second best performance in the film. Much like his character, Koji delivers a menacing performance as Jine Udo. He’s goes more for power in his line delivery while subduing his physical expressions. Giving the impression that he could you at any moment, even if in plain sight. Emi Takei plays Kaoru Kamiya who does a good job in the film. While limited in depth, Emi Takei gets a couple of scenes to show off range. What best about her performance is despite being the love interest she shows her affection in subtle ways. Munetaka Aoki plays the strong goofball Sanosuke Sagara in the film. For the whole the film he neither the actor, nor the character linger into a serious subject for long. Whenever on screen they are light hearted. Munetaka despite lacking range in the film does deliver on his comedy delivering especially in a action scene that incorporates humor in the middle of it.

Yu Aoi plays  Megumi Tanaki to her effect. She’s dramatic, provide some playful banter, and eases when displaying her characters different emotions. It’s a good performance, though unlike her male co-stars isn’t given a memorable scene. Teruyuki Kagawa plays Kanryuu who’s given little screen time. Whenever Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen he’s simply meant to come across as rude. He’s cynical, but not over the top in his portrayal with the exception of a single scene. Kagawa is subdue in his portrayal of a clear villain making him as grounded as possible. While the character is not memorable due to how one dimensional the character is written Teruyuki Kagawa performance at least makes it enjoyable to see. Other actors whom are also lacking in screen time are Taketo Tanaka who plays Yahiko Myojin, and Gou Ayano who plays Gein. Gou Ayano doesn’t get to display his acting chops, but does to be involved in an excellent action in the film. While not much, it does allow Ayano to shin as a performer. Taketo Tanaka receives more scenes than Ayano does, but does get a scene to highlight his talent. Tanaka does a good job in his role regardless having good chemistry with his older co-stars, especially with Emi Takei.

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Also, the film contains great cinematography, and cool shots.

One aspect of the live action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin that’ll distinguished it among Samurai films is the action choreography by Kenhi Tanigaki who worked on famous martial art films Saat Po Long (Killzone in English), and Flash Point. In this film, Kenhi Tanigaki goes from rapid fist fights to elaborate sword fights. There’s two action scenes in the film where Kenshin goes up against large number of fighters that the choreography sells the fights convincingly. The first of these fights is in a dojo where Kenshin fights against a group of thugs. What the choreography in this scene focuses on is Kenshin speed. Another aspect in this fight that is used are the actors in the background are given something to do. In the beginning of this particular action scene Kenshin first knocks his opponents down with defensive maneuvers with rapid punches. This causes the thugs slowly fearing Kenshin as he keeps on dodging thugs sword strikes whom begin to swing wildly at Kenshin. A tiny detail like Kenshin using maneuvers that hits an opponent behind him makes the implausible scenario reliable as well as being a action scene. Of course, the cinematography is also worth complimenting since in this action scene it’s close enough to see the hits, but not to far to show inactive actors in the background waiting for their cue to perform their specific move in the sequence. It’s filmed, and edited in a way where it’s easy to decipher what is going on in the scene.

Then the second of these action scenes is the in the third act that once again has Kenshin along with Sanosuke fight against a large number of Samurai. Like the previous large scale action scene, the quick performances in the choreography, the way it shot, and edited makes it convincing. Sanosuke uses a different fighting style swinging around his giant sword to hand to hand combat. A majority of the action sequences in the film are one on one bouts all which are well done. All the action sequences make use of the characters abilities, and the environment around them. A standout in the movie is Kenshin fight with Gein which starts out with Kenshin taking the evasive approach dodging bullets inching his way closer to Gein as he keeps taking Gein ability to fight. It’s an exciting fight scene that also shows while limited, the execellent work in the film.

Aesthetically the film simply looks like high budget Japanese Samurai film which is to it credit. Everything from the costumes, the sets, the actors, and everything else looks cinematic. Nothing about it gives off the impression it’s an adaptation as even some of the more outlandish elements (characters dodging bullets for from a minigun) seemed grounded. Another aspect to the live action film is the music composed by Naoki Sato which is excellent. Ranging from fairly modern techno beats with tribal vocals to standard orchestral with the usage of the Shamisen. Sato score is easily of high quality succeeding in strengthening a scene. It’s best usage are definitely in the action sequences as it creates more excitement when viewing them. One overused of Naoki Sato music definitely when Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen having the track Kanryuu Teikoku – Gashuu No Take play in the background. Aside from that track, the music is well utilized in the film. Some listeners of Japanese rock music will be surprised by the unexpected song “The Beginning” by band One Ok Rock to be heard.

Rurouni Kenshin is an excellent adaptation that can stand on its own as a film. Anyone who has no familiarity with the series can easily view the film without feeling like they missed anything. As far faithfulness to the source material I can’t comment on it since I’ve yet to read a single page of the manga, or see a single episode of the anime series. However, I would say for anyone who enjoy Samurai films will find the familiar, but well executed story has enough to distinguishes itself to make it worth viewing.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) (2014) Review

Hollywood has a history of remaking Japanese films. “Seven Samurai” became “The Magnificent Seven”, “Yojimbo became” “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Warrior and the Sorcerers”, and “Rashomon” became “The Outrage”. What all these Japanese films have in common besides being helm by Akira Kurosawa. All contained samurai as a major character. I wanted to list specifically samurai films because Japan love Western as much as Hollywood loves (remaking) samurai films. So it is no surprise that Japan would remake Clint Eastwood masterpiece “Unforgiven”. Calling the original “Unforgiven” the “Seven Samurai” of the Western genre is no exaggeration by any means. However, the remake, “Yurusarezaru mono” (Unforgiven in English) is not of the same caliber. While it’s not quite as insulting as Hollywood take on “47 Ronin”. This remake is by definition lazy. Retreading familiar material without much effort to deviate for its own identity and missing all source of passion. Kinda ironic when you think about it since Warner Bros. who are responsible for the original are responsible for the remake.

Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven in English) is about Jubei Kamata, a fearsome former samurai of the Tokugawa Shogunate taking one last job. Plot point by plot point this retelling is superficial. Just because the setting is changed and characters named change does not qualify as a proper remake. Scenes for scenes copy dialogue from the original sticking too closely to them. Making it tedious to sit through for anyone who seen the original. Ironically the worst scenes of the film are it rare attempts to deviate from the original. In the opening we see Jubei Kamata fighting for his life against some military soldiers. Immediately this remove the mysterious aura around Jebei being this so call legendary killer. Because we saw Jubei kill we don’t once ever question his ability or doubt he is this legendary killer. Therefore never seeing him as this ordinary person he pretends to be when he’s introduced. Another change in the story is who convinces the protagonist to get involved for this hit. In the original it was The “Schofield Kid”; a young admirer of William Munny (the original film protagonist) and this came into play very strongly on depicting morality in the old west and the influence of legends. Here it’s Kingo Baba (Morgan Freeman character basically) convinces Jubei to get back out on the field. This too is also ruined instead of developing the relationship between these two long time friends during their journey they are downgraded to simple two dimensional characters. Than comes the climax that butchers the preceding. In the original, Munny had a reason a to return to Big Whiskey for more than just payback; in this remake it just comes off as an act of vengeance. Schofield Kid character is also diminished in this remake. Whereas most of the characters stay the same this character gets needlessly changed. Using Schofield character as attempt to bring up race discrimination, but does nothing with it. Discrimination is just brought up as this character defining feature who does discuss his struggles with it once. Once, other times discrimination is just brought up because it a thing that happened to him for small talk. Worst part about it bringing up discrimination is pointless in this. If discrimination was never brought up the film would not change in the slightest.

Does the film work if you haven’t seen the original? How can the remake fail for those who haven’t seen it if virtually everything remained intact? Simple…okay it’s actually not, but I’ll explain the best to my amature abilities. What the original did was play on expectations and doing a complete one-eighty in its board depiction on sophisticated themes. This remake falls victim to those expectations; it sets up those expectations of what is associated with Samurai films and following them with a straight face. The humor is more varied and less subtle, but is also more spontaneous and noticeable when it disappears entirely from the film. Pacing issues are apparent with some scenes rushing encounters and introductions while others overstay their welcome. This is a major problem, as the emotional link that could be potentially had with a tale of two old fools, one chasing and one running from a dream, doesn’t hit as well as it might. It adapts the story well replacing guns with swords, but is not an seamless exchange. It doesn’t bother exploring why some still prefer to carry sword despite the advantages a gun can offer. Another is the setup appears to be wanting to make commentary on a theme, but which one that is becomes clouded by what characters do. Characters motivations aren’t clear or properly set up; like why the young Auni wants to been seen as a killer aren’t made clear. Our main cast is two dimensional with supporting characters changing through the course of the film more so than the actual protagonist. In the climax, Jubei image being this frail man is removed as he able to endured multiple wounds from bullets and swords. The ending is set up in a way to create an image of Jubei as a passing legend despite trying so desperately earlier on to disprove audience from that notion. In the eyes of a newcomer is might come off as a passable film with no developed, clear ideas with miss potential for greatness.

Ken Wantanabe is our leading man and his performance is below average. He’s no Clint Eastwood vocally or physically and that’s where the problem lies. Eastwood in the original looks like someone grandfather who you would have trouble believing was this legendary outlaw, but Wantanabe just comes across as someone out shape. Wantanabe young looking appearance makes it difficult to see him as the frail old man he plays. His line delivery is always assured eliminating the unease that his character might not actually changed. Since there’s no distinction in the way Wantanabe speaks there is no subtle transformation. Imitating Eastwood performances instead of making it his own. Akira Emoto is an excellent replacement for Morgan Freeman playing virtually the same character. Charismatic and committed in his role being a good supporting actor to help remove Wantanabe never settling into the role. Another stand out is Koichi Sato glowering, witty and assured performance, given a dandyish touch by his curlicued moustache, has a finesse worthy of the role’s originator, Gene Hackman. Sadly though, our lead isn’t able to the break image of whose first played the role like the rest of the cast. Cinematography is pleasing to the eyes with rich textures that changes environment according to the protagonist mood. It’s nice hidden visual theme that sadly is undermined by the majority that retread old material.

Yurusarezaru mono (Unforgiven) is a remake that encourages laziness. It’s a carbon copy of the original with none of the same passion or sophistication. Whatever small change the film rarely goes for backfires making characters two dimensional and simplifying such gray themes as discrimination as throwaway material. Characters motivations are lost and it’s story plays into your expectations. As a remake it’s just retreading virtually everything the original cover making it tedious for anyone who seen the original and for newcomers with unclear ideas that get lost among the mess of what could have been.

3/10

Cinema-Maniac: 47 Ronin (2013) Movie Review

In films there are usually certain characteristics that help decide what seen regardless how it turns and one of those is the Samurai. In work of fictions or based around true events Samurai films have provided some of my personal favorite characters and stories. Alongside with an interest in Samurai culture in films “47 Ronin” was inevitable to be seen. Unfortunately this interpretation of the classic story butchered everything that made the original story timeless.

47 Ronin tells the story of a band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun. The first and immediate problem with the film is the departure from the source material which is based on true events. It was emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives especially during a time where the Samurai class was struggling to maintain a sense of itself – warriors with no war, a social class without a function. Important details like that turned an epic story of revenge into an influential story of the importance of self worth and honor. This adaptation is a literal trainwreck in every sense of the word. Taking an established story and giving a Western touch that severely damages it identity. Understanding of the Samurai code is nonexistent as it leaves audiences in the dust. Unless you have minimal understanding of Samurai culture and their code of honor none of what the Samurai expresses come across with any meaning. Down to the basic details such as explaining the significance behind the title of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai/someone who is without a home) aren’t touched upon. Without getting across the bare essentials it’s doom upon arrival. Since the writers don’t know how to implement Eastern culture into the film both sides are left unsatisfied. Those unfamiliar with the story will misinterpret its intention and those familiar with the story will be infuriated by not only the liberties that were taken, but how ignorant it is to what made the “47 Ronin” legendary.

If it were be taken as pure fiction it has all sign of life stripped away. Fantasy elements that were meant to be exuberant are lifeless. Dry dialogue tells us of an Japan that is home to dangerous monsters, witches, and fearless warriors. Main problem being hardly implementing fantasy elements in a story that clearly didn’t need any of it. Every time an element of fantasy is introduced they are blatant metaphors that hammered their point across. An important scene in the Tengu (a legendary creature depicted with both human and avian characteristics) Temple where the ronin go to gain swords serves as the creation of the film’s black hole. Our non-Japanese protagonist immediately tells the leader how to pass the test given to him defeating the whole purpose of testing his leader loyalty to his men. Not only that, but it’s also introduces the non-Japanese protagonist to a supernatural abilities which he uses only once later on in the film. Everything portrayed is meant to hammer a single point further establishing the one dimensionality of every single thing in its writing.

Obviously a two hour film can’t developed 47 individual characters into three dimensional characters, but without a single worthwhile character ensures emptiness. Kai, the protagonist (a work of fiction) is simply a tool in the film. He’s not a white man who leads Japanese to reclaim their honor. No, Kai is a man who’s constantly told to annoying extremes that he’s not a Samurai and a half bread. Beating the protagonist down with secondary characters has two effects; the first being it makes Kai unlikable because he’s given little reason to stick with his fellow ronin who constantly show no respect and the second being it makes our heroes as equally dislikable as the villain. Speaking of which we’re only told through the ronin words he’s a terrible man and yet never once do we see any reason to hate him. Given how poorly it establishes how deeply Japan values honor the heroes motivation is just as easily missable. Romance is severely half baked. Since most of the film is spend on the ronin preparation to avenge their master what little time it spends to establish a romance early on in the film is fades away and reappears later carrying no weight to the overall story. Detracting from Kai journey to save her seeing his love interest is simply a flat plot device.

Keanu Reeves performance is wooden. His character is written in a way that he shows little emotion as possible in which Reeves delivers on his front. Always looking broody and down on his feet when interacting with the rest of the cast. Reeves here comes into focus in action mode making him appear cool as his dialogue is among the simplest of the cast. The Japanese actors have trouble saying their lines in English. It’s made very evident (five minutes in no less) that the Japanese actors aren’t comfortable speaking in English. Their line delivery is awkward and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Only sounding natural when speaking in their native language. Action scenes are a dull affair utilizing the best in random swinging. Sword techniques are fluid requiring careful reading of your opponent movement and speed; something not made evident in the film sword fights. Our ronin simply strike without planning resulting in a stalemate of pointlessly clashing swords. More characters are killed by projectile than a slash of a blade lessening the effect of the main weapon in most of the action scenes. All of this with editing that has a tendency to exist scenes abruptly. I appreciate the editor wanting to make the film end more quickly, but doing so did more harm than good to the way the film plays out. Just about the only compliment that could be given to “47 Ronin” is it cinematography. It’s varied in location and has some good looking scenes (especially ones involving fire). Nice visuals can’t make for bad acting, unimaginative action, horrid editing, and a plot that has sign of life to be found.

47 Ronin is a misinterpretation of an Eastern story told by Westerners that don’t understand it. Combining Japanese folktale, American empty set pieces, Japan Samurai culture, and American lazy writing creates a fusion of a culturally unsatisfying film. It’s more than a bad adaptation, it’s more than a awful movie, and more than a generic blockbuster, but it’s a complete butchering representing the worst in Eastern and Western filmmaking.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: 13 Assassins (2011) Review

13 Assassins is a truly epic movie and one of the best samurai movie ever made that can easily be compared to the classic Seven Samurai in terms of story, direction, and greatness.

The basic plot is a group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord. I found the story to be both involving and intense as we’re quickly introduced to our heroes and learned about their them. I will say on story alone it does a spectacular job of giving us a brutal and heartless villain, our heroes and there motivations, and a sense of realism from the story. It’s well pace to, I thought it would be a disaster to balance a 40 something final battle sequence, but somehow it has enough story before the epic battle start and ends that were left satisfy with the story.

Now on to what must have been one of the greatest epic battle i’ve ever seen captured on camera, there’s a body-count of over 150 and it’s entertaining to watch. The battle of course is 40 something minute and you would expect for the action to get tiring, except it doesn’t. The story gave us our characters, add emotional weight to them, and somehow it made the epic battle that much more intense and epic. It’s Asia cinema at it finest when comes to capturing something like this. The final shot before it fades to black will leave you with an impression on how truly bloody, epic the battle was and you’ll realize what you just saw is one of the best Samurai movie ever made.

13 Assassins is a great movie I would personally recommend to any movie lover. 13 Assassins is a movie that will give you a incredible and memorable experience.

10/10