The story of the legendary samurai returns in this two-part film special. And the first part, 'The Final', is an exciting and emotionally rewarding treat for fans, even if it copies from the films prior.
"Where's Battousai the Killer?"
The film begins with a train, where Officer Goro plans to arrest a Shanghai arms dealer. But he finds a formidable foe in the mysterious Enishi Yukishiro, who is both untouchable politically and in battle. This man has dangerous plans, and a vendetta against the legendary Battousai the Killer, Kenshin Himura. Meanwhile, Kenshin is existing happily with Kaoru and his friends after finally achieving peace. Japan has slowly changed, a far cry from the warring periods that he fought in. The cultures of the outside world have merged with Japan, a new era of peace that Kenshin could only dream of. But the sins of the past aren't willing to let him go. With attacks happening everywhere, Kenshin is forced to face the consequence of what could be his greatest sin. The murder of someone he loved, and the people willing to take revenge because of it.
"I don't want to simply cause you pain. I want you to suffer."
With both 'Rurouni Kenshin: The Final' and 'Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning', fans are finally given a chance to return to the bloody world of Kenshin Himura. The first film, 'Rurouni Kenshin: The Final', begins with a fast-paced action scene where our newest villain beats up an entire police force single-handedly. Immediately, the film lets you know that it has a bigger budget it's willing to flex. And with epic action set-pieces bolstered by a bigger budget, it's easy to get hyped for what's next. And 'The Final' blew any expectations on the action away. The fights are just as fluid as in the previous films, only now aided with better CGI and practical effects that make every shot look marvelous. While the 'Rurouni Kenshin' films are known for their action, nothing before could even come close to what 'The Final' brought to screen. If all else fails in the film, at least there's the electrifying fight choreography and explosive action to keep you entertained. Spoilers ahead!
"If you're alive, you can move on together."
Thankfully, 'The Final' has more to its story. It's not just pretty fireworks and shiny swordplay, 'The Final' also brings a heavy sense of drama. A revenge plot that carries a greater personal weight, Kenshin is forced to go head-to-head against Enishi when the man starts to destroy the town and the friends that Kenshin holds dear. A sort of reckoning, since Kenshin killed Enishi's sister named Tomoe. Compared to the previous villains Kenshin encountered, this one is more personal. Enishi is the manifestation of the person he used to be, another innocent turned mad man of his bloodsoaked ways in the past. Like the agent of karma itself, Enishi delivers his vengeance swiftly and with no intent on coming back. He's an unstoppable force of chaos, driven by rage and revenge. He has the makings of a great villain that Kenshin has to overcome. Because as much as Enishi is a monster, he is also a victim of Kenshin. This is the crux of 'The Final' and its conflict. Once again, Kenshin is faced with a shadow from his past that wants to drown him. But instead of one of the many who desired his power or desired to tear down what he fought for, Enishi just wants Kenshin. He is the true reflection of Kenshin's darkness. And a scared victim who just wants peace. His trauma and vulnerability make him a sympathetic character in some way, something that the previous villains lacked. It makes him more powerful as a character since he wouldn't exist as a monster if Kenshin didn't do what he did, but he was just as willing to create the same pain as the man who hurt him. This is the man Kenshjn has to defeat in order to save his friends. This cloud of guilt makes his fight against Enishi even more substantial since they're both filled with pain yet connected by the love they had for Tomoe. This connection between them makes for a final battle that's emotional and exciting. And that's what ultimately makes 'The Final' so good. It puts all its efforts into the emotional conflict to keep the film still grounded without getting lost in the explosive action. This combination actually helps the film a lot since the plot is very simple. It's like every other revenge plot before it provides nothing new to the setup beyond combining interesting ways to deliver the action. Thematically, the film is just as textbook revenge story as you can get. But it's the focus on the emotional core, as well as a fantastic performance by Mackenyu Arata as Enishi, that elevated the simplicity of the story.
"Tomoe would not have wanted this."
But for all its brilliance, 'The Final' does not come out unscathed. One of the most glaring flaws the film has is its familiarity. And not just in the way revenge stories go. Revenge stories are a codified trope and aren't changing anytime soon. But it's the fact that 'The Final' just repeats the same tactics made by the two prior films in the series to incite excitement. Specifically, 'Kyoto Inferno' and 'The Legend Ends'. Many of the story beats can also be seen in those two films. From attacking towns with bombs from afar, threatening war and death thanks to Kenshin, and even the kidnapping of Kaoru. It's all the same old story moments, only done within one movie and paced much more quickly. It's a bit of a nitpick, but it's still very obvious. Even thematically, the film is familiar. It carries the same message of Kenshin being forced to face his past, a victim of his crimes. It's the same as with Shishio, who viewed Kenshin as a symbol of the old Japan. But more personal. If it weren't for the final act that made the divergence in the themes, one could argue that 'The Final' is just a condensed version of 'Kyoto Inferno' and 'The Legend Ends'. Especially since both stories also have arcs where Kenshin must learn to rely on others and not forget the value of his own life.
In a twisted way, you could think of 'The Final' as the 'Toy Story 4' of the 'Rurouni Kenshin' film franchise. While it's emotional and entertaining, it also comes at the heels of an already complete trilogy. And it has the burden of proving to the audience why we should still care for what story the film has to say, despite having three prior films that already explored the characters completely. Kenshin, by the end of 'The Legend Ends', has already learned all the important lessons of what it means to atone for your sins. And this movie barely pushes him forward in that regard, only reinforcing what's already there. The most dramatic theme the film has to offer is the idea of moving on with guilt, and even that was already touched in the prior films t. It makes the film brilliant, but at the same time useless. After all, what way could they still explore Kenshin? It's only through sheer hard work of putting all of the focus on the raw emotional tension between Enishi and Kenshin that the film doesn't fall to trapping itself in its own familiarity. Because it's how much of a victim the two of them are of their circumstances that keep the angst and drama flowing. It's the shared tragedy between two people who, in another life, could have been great friends. It's the life they loved and lost that drives a tragic wedge of sorrow and pain that elevates the cliches of the film to higher art. And with the added bonus of fantastic action, 'The Final' manages to deliver one hell of a ride. Nothing encapsulates this more than the final fight between Enishi and Kenshin. Where the music doesn't exist, and it's only the sound of swords clashing, and their fists and kicks. It's brutal and angry and, despite being filled with impressive choreography, manages to deliver an emotional battle that's full of sorrow. This is what 'Rurouni Kenshin: The Final' is all about, the price of violence. And it makes for an amazing film.
In summary: 'Rurouni Kenshin: The Final' overcomes its familiar moments with raw emotion and exciting action that is sure to please casual watchers and fans alike.
Film rating: 8/10