Kyoto Taika Hen review (sortof)

It’s difficult to give a coherent overall impression of this movie, since it’s only telling half a story, so this is more a series of thoughts on various scenes and characters than a complete review. But at least let me start out by saying that this is a fantastic movie and I loved it. How many times have I watched it so far? Not telling. Here we go.

Clearly the people making these things realize who is the most awesome of all, for here he is a second time the first named character to appear onscreen. Nonetheless, Saitou, though featured pretty prominently throughout the movie, isn’t a big part of the story. He’s mostly just… around… being efficient… wishing Sano were there. Which is fine, given the story that’s being told. And I love that one of the first interactions anyone has with him is to tell him to take off his clothes.

Is it Anji that first appears and kills police officers? That doesn’t entirely make sense, and the guy doesn’t look quite big enough, but he’s got beads and a light-colored head-scarf… then he or someone similar is walking away with Shishiotachi later in the scene, and there he looks big enough… but the Juppongatana aren’t gathered yet? So I dunno.

The opening scene of Saitou confronting Shishio is an interesting one. It feels so incredibly dramatic, so in medias res, and so unnecessary to the overall narrative, that I almost kinda feel like it was an afterthought prepended for the sake of the most dramatic and mood-setting possible beginning. It also seems like a bit of a shout-out to those of us that miss the petroleum in the fortress. Not that I’m really complaining, because Saitou.

Boy, the Kenshingumi sure is amused by the unfunny doings in this play XD XD XD But given how inordinately happy Kenshin is later at the cleanness of the laundry he’s washing, I suppose this is only to be expected, at least from him. And Sano just cannot sit still to save his life. His dates later are going to require some serious work on Saitou’s part to keep him from bothering everyone around them. But that was always a given, and a challenge that Saitou is well up to.

I like the characterization of Kaoru better in this movie than in the previous; she’s allowed to demonstrate her strength a bit better here, I think. I especially appreciate that she worries about Kenshin leaving not selfishly, but because she fears the effect it may have on his resolve. She values the purity of his way of life and doesn’t want to see that tarnished.

As I may have mentioned before, I’ve long been rather unhappy that she gets kidnapped again, but I’m pleased that they at least allowed her to have a lengthy battle in which she held her own (even after she was disarmed!!) before that happened. Of course nobody would ever believe that Kaoru could beat Soujirou, but she does, at least, get a sort of pass in that she’s exhausted after the battle when he approaches her. That’s a bit of a relief.

So threateningly eat that tomato, Sano!!

That bit of flashback to Tomoe during the cop-corpse scene is redundant, and I wish they hadn’t included it. Of course at that moment, seeing the grieving women and Kenshin’s face, any viewer is going to recall that scene immediately and viscerally, so actually showing it is stupidly unsubtle.

I love that Aoshi’s like, “I don’t even need my weapons at all to deal with you, Sano.” I saw someone complain in a review that Aoshi was unnecessarily and unusually brutal in pursuit of his ends in this story, but I found him to be exactly as he was in canon, except crazier.

Because the scene in which his betrayed subordinates sacrifice themselves to protect him even as he’s attempting to save their lives is quite a decent parallel to the canon events, but provides even less of a believable motive for Aoshi to try to defeat Kenshin than his original one. I mean, his logic was always a bit silly, but I could at least follow it in canon. Here it’s like, “Yeah, this one guy I’ve never met worked for the people that betrayed my team, so I’ll make him my #1 priority for the next ten years.”

OK, so. I love Aoshi x 1,000,000, but I feel like he clutters up this movie. Remember how I speculated, back when I was chattering endlessly about the first one, that he would be written out of the story entirely? I still feel like that might have been the better choice in storytelling terms. He ends up as this random guy with incredibly unbelievable motivations, randomly connected with some people Kenshin met at random, wandering at random around the sets causing destruction and never actually having any real purpose.

Soujirou’s demeanor is every bit as charming as it should be. We don’t get much insight into his abilities, though, and that’s sad. When he mirrors Kenshin’s Battoujutsu, for example (besides the fact that I miss his cheerful, “Soreja, boku mo!”), there’s no explanation that Soujirou is just such a badass swordsman that he can imitate others’ techniques at short notice like that. There’s not really time, and a lot of the trademark Rurouni Kenshin explaining-what’s-going-on-in-battle has obviously been cut, but I still miss it a little.

I wish they’d shown the Nagasone Kotetsu sword properly destroyed, as it was in canon, rather than just nicked in a few places. It made more sense for Soujirou to walk away under the former circumstances. This is the type of story where there’s a lot of walking away from a battle because it’s not the right dramatic moment for that battle to be concluded, so even the least scrap of excuse for that to happen is appreciated.

The “little hands” speech was, I think, clumsily handled and a bit shoehorned in.

Oh, neurotic Houji and his emotions. It’s not made even a little bit clear here what Houji’s function is in Shishio’s organization, but he’s extremely well presented nonetheless.

I love the relationship between Kaoru and Megumi in this version of the story where there’s no real rivalry over Kenshin between them. I love to see them friendly and supportive of each other — and not just because I kinda ship them, but because the rivalry has always felt stale and I think they make better allies in whatever sense. The way things are set up here, with Megumi not in love with Kenshin, allows for a much better friendship between the two women, and I think it’s great.

Rurouni Kenshin will always be, unfortunately, one of those stories in which the women’s lives revolve around the men. But at least under these circumstances, Megumi can look out for another woman’s feelings as a friend rather than being motivated entirely by her own relationship with a man.

Saitou’s like, “Holy Aku Soku Zan, Kenshin, get these damn squealing geisha out of here so we can talk business already! By the way, did you bring that doofus friend of yours with you, by any chance?”

I love how Chou, delightfully and appropriately gangly and impudent, shows up and immediately spouts sword trivia. I’m still astonished at how young he looks; I never quite believed any of the pictures, but now I’m convinced. His squinting is perfect, too.

“Some samurai are fighting at the shrine? Better to stay away? But that’s the kind of thing that always happens when Kenshin’s around!!”

Replacing Misao with Kaoru at this point is a wonderful touch. It’s so much more meaningful to have Kaoru, with her matching attitudes about killing and her deeper concern for Kenshin’s way of life, see Kenshin strike the potentially killing blow against Chou before they realize that the new sword is a sakabatou. It’s so powerful when Kenshin turns and meets her gaze and there’s just silence between them for a few moments.

And I think it makes the “han-bun” line a bit later more meaningful — is he upset with her for following him to Kyoto? In part, certainly, since in that moment when he believed he’d killed for the first time in ten years and broken his vow, he turned and unexpectedly found the person whose philosophies most closely matched his own, a sort of symbol of that vow, having witnessed his apparent act of murder. I might be more than half upset, myself XD

Also, the lurching!! I know I complained about it before, but I eventually accepted it as a (admittedly somewhat weird) symbol of Kenshin reacting to his own killing impulses. Resurrecting it in this scene when Kenshin is dealing with the fact that, for a moment, he was 100% willing to kill, and would certainly have done so but for something that was essentially chance, was absolutely brilliant.

Oh, ladies’ man Yahiko giving Kaoru romantic advice. Da ha ha ha ha.

Usui has these hilarious ear-flaps coming down from his blindfold that are just… hilarious.

It’s tragic to see Saitou questioning Chou without Sano there, since that’s one of their bonding scenes and a setup for later Saitougumi goodness. Actually, I think we could have done with one more scene, even just a brief one, to show Sano getting to Kyoto. When he appears during the battle, it seems a bit out of nowhere — especially since it kindof implies that Sano managed to get all the way there without incident, which is completely incredible.

The diffusing of the realization of Shishio’s true intentions was a good idea, I think. I do love me my genius Kenshin/Saitou moment in canon, but it’s always seemed a little implausible how quickly they see through the Kyoto Taika ruse and head straight for the bay. And here, where the Rengoku is a bigger part of the story than just a boss to be defeated on the way to the fortress (though I assume that does, sadly, rob Sano of that particular moment of glory and Saitou’s admiration), it’s a good idea to put off the realization of it until the end. Of course, anyone that knows the story can see that Shishiotachi are on a ship in a lot of the earlier scenes — but that just makes it more awesome and dramatically ironic.

MmmmmmmmmmSaitou. So cool and collected. Battle and fire happens, and he just lights yet another cigarette, goes to his happy place with Sano, and kills everyone. Keep Calm and Destroy Evil Immediately. I think I’ll make a poster.

The first time I watched this movie yesterday, during the battle scene in Kyoto, two cats exploded into their own battle behind me, and their snarling and hissing fit so well with what was happening onscreen that it was like having surround sound. I felt like I was really there.

Saitou, chain-smoKINGASusual, I see. Maintaining that cigarette throughout the battle is yet another indication of what a badass he can be.

Good luck getting your sword back out of that river, Sano.

I’m very fond of the Oniwabanshuu’s battle outfits in this movie. They’re super cool-looking. But then Aoshi and Okina have a fighting-game moment where they face off against each other, standing still but sort of pulsing gently up and down, and it makes me laugh.

I did mention Aoshi cluttering up the movie, though, right? His battle with Okina is cool, but seems so pointlessly tangential with the way the story’s arranged. And when Misao comes in to observe the last moment, it’s not nearly as impactful as in canon because her relationships with the two men aren’t nearly so well established. That was something there just wasn’t time for, so, once again, it might have been better to leave all this stuff out entirely.

OK, so, before I ever saw this movie, I kept seeing images of, like, a million Shishios, and giggling at them, and assuming that they were stunt doubles or something? I giggled even more, though, when the decoy scene happened and there were actually a million Shishios. I kindof expected Cabadath to pop out of various parts of the scenery and kill them one by one *random obscure comparison* Also, the Shishios make hilarious noises as Kenshin fights them, and that’s wonderful.

So glad they kept Sano punching Kenshin intact. I don’t much ship those two, but that was always such a good Kenshin/Sano moment, and that remained the case here. If I may mention my own fanfiction (a thing I am often inclined to do), I totally imagine this scene continuing like the one in Angles when Sano punches Kenshin and then kisses him in almost the same motion. Of course, here, Saitou shows up immediately and then he and Sano Have Chemistry for the rest of eternity, but still.

And speaking of couples, I also love how Kenshin has a little twitch, without really knowing why, the moment Kaoru is knocked out by Soujirou. Also? Roof-running and horse-rustling! Doesn’t get much more romantic than that. And Kaoru and Kenshin are a pairing I do actually ship.

Then Aoshi wanders grunting through Kyoto at random. AND POSES!!

Here’s a nitpicky complaint: why does practically everyone seem to use a sword? One thing I’ve always loved about this series is how diverse so many of the warriors are in their styles and choices of weapon. So it’s kindof irritating to see Okina start out his battle with Aoshi with a sword, and half of the Juppongatana wielding a sword on the Rengoku, and so on.

In the previous movie, as I mentioned in previous movie talk, there were some really random uses of slow motion that didn’t fit very well. That didn’t happen at all in this one, and I think that’s great. Well improved, guys!

CRAB!!

I like how they hide Hiko’s face for so long at the end, and I feel like it would have been better if they’d continued that and not shown it at all in this movie. He’s a damn fine-looking man, though. Which is, of course, only appropriate. Also, we see now from what source Kenshin inherits his propensity for purple tabi, though that’s mostly an anime thing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s