Picking up where the first film left off, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno finds our hero Kenshin (aka Battosai the Killer) happily domesticated with his friends Sanosuke, Kaoru and rescued opium siren Megumi. All is well in this makeshift family. Until, that is, the emergence of a new enemy, the emotionally and physically scarred Shishio – a fellow assassin left for dead after the end of the Shogunate/Emperor war but returned to the world of the living with almost supernaturally evil intentions. Throw in a rather peripheral and arguably under used character, Aoshi, who is hell bent on killing the legendary Battosai, and you’ve got the full house of players for this entertaining if somewhat confused sequel.
But then it is based on the hugely successful manga from Japan, written by Nobuhiro Watsuki, and so has both its audience and source material to consider. Judging by the box office result in its home land then maybe director Keishi Otomo might just have got it right again.
It’s still filled with all the gorgeous period touches, immaculate attention to detail in costume and design, rather splendid action choreography and all captured with the same considerable craft as last time by cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka.
Takeru Satô reprises the titular role with the same conflicted intent, the shamed former killer sworn to a life of non violence, at times lurching unrecognisably then swaggering like a prize peacock through the story. He is both the darkly powerful Battosai and perfect high school pin-up Kenshin; effeminate but utterly deadly with it. Similar in theme to the first film, and obviously a constant, Kenshin’s refusal to kill is put to the toughest test, not least because he’s almost uniquely gifted at it. Only almost though, as this time around we meet characters who are potential matches for our Kenshin, dethroning him as untouchable, which only serves to draw us more into his corner. We like nothing more than rooting for the underdog.
Although opening with a visually rich and compelling hook to this next chapter in Rurouni Kenshin’s story, taking us through its pages with class, gusto and undeniably pretty pictures, never seeming long despite its near two and a half hour run time, it does feel like something is missing. But then maybe all will become clear in the concluding part…