In three months, I watched four Japanese films screened locally – Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji 黒執事), Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (るろうに剣心 京都大火編), Lupin III (ルパン三世), Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (るろうに剣心 伝説の最後編). Among the four, the last one blew me off my seat. I cringed at violence, felt for the cries, savored the scenes of sunny fields, and rooted for the characters. It didn’t feel like watching an anime turned into live action. It felt like watching a Japanese movie renowned as a Japanese film, not a live action remake.
Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (or the Rurouni Kenshin Live Shishio arc) says a lot about Japan and its culture. Here are 10 things I hope didn’t get entirely shunned by the cool fight scenes.
Bushido, roughly translated as Way of the Warrior, is a written code of the samurai. It was written by Nitobe Inazo and exemplified by the samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi. According to the Bushido code, with nuances of translation or mistranslation aside, English counterparts of the warrior virtues are rectitude, courage, benevolence, politeness, honesty, honor, loyalty, and self-control. Rurouni Kenshin didn’t really teach us the way of the warrior, right? After all, bushido wasn’t written in the subtitles. Wrong.
Kenshin went back to the capital. The neck of the government was wedged between the scorched hands of ex-samurai Makoto Shishio, who knew all the dirty work politicians tried to hide under the Old Government Archives section of their brain. Shishio wanted Battousai to be publicly executed in exchange for the privy files in the OG Archives. Ito-san agreed. Battousai was taken to the office and was told that his public execution was simply a scapegoat. Hajime Saito quipped and the word Bushido got thrown on the table. Against Ito-san, of course.
Correct me if I’m wrong. Ito-san was a samurai; thus, it is fair to assume that he knew the code of the warrior. But in the new era, he is a politician. He is aware of how politics work. According to Bushido articles available online, a samurai has to be simple. SIMPLE. And being involved in politics definitely has greed and pride lurking around it. I mean, have you seen the Capital in Full Metal Alchemist?
- New Era
Shin Jidai (新時代) means new time or new era. The story has characters representing the Japanese who support the new time and the Japanese who oppose it. Malevolence comes from those who oppose the new times and the new government. On the other hand, with the radical change that established the new era, the benevolent ones address it as shin jidai. It is the new era that they celebrate, not the new government, which takes away the political bias we all don’t need.
- Samurai and Ninja
It is personally curious how the relationship between the samurai and ninja is portrayed in the film. Let’s take it several hundred of years back. In the feudal times, the daimyo has a loyal subordinate, the samurai. The samurai does all the work tasked to him as long as it does not violate Bushido; thus, it works under the code of honor. For the dirty work, the ninja is given the blade. I could be missing a manga puzzle piece of Rurouni Kenshin here, but the Oniwabanshu (The Watchers) is a group of ninjas. Meanwhile, both Battousai and Shishio were both considered assassins back in their prime.
If I were to make sense of it and just follow the Progressive Japan Plot from #2, I’d say shin jidai makes them change their thirst for killing.
- I’ve fought with Christians, not with Buddhists
During the ancient times, there were not many Christians in Japan. Some who were were either outlawed or persecuted. Meanwhile, the Buddhists were not as accepted as they used to in the olden times – which explains Anji’s anger to the new era. Haibutsu Kishaku (廃仏毀釈) literally means “abolish Buddhism and destroy Shākyamuni.” So that explains the blood bath of these two hot-headed men.
6. “I don’t measure the same way you do.” – Shishio
I love this scene. It gives justice to the anime. (Take that missing firefly scene from Kyoto Inferno!)
The story basically used Shishio as the antagonist, but his wrath was vindicated. He was burned, supposedly killed, and buried under the cinders of other samurai. Now that isn’t a nice way to make another Darth Vader burry your samurai. He was not respected for who he was regardless of what he has done. These Japanese swordsmen want to die in honor. Heck, they even have that hara-kiri rule in their book! Thus, his rage, all his killing spree has a human reason. And we are given a hint that his way of thinking is really different from the norm, represented by Kenshin, at that time. And he verbalized that; he said, “I don’t measure the same way you do” when Ayumi died.
- Shishio died long ago.
Some might be disappointed with how the final battle with Shishio had to involve two other men as opposed to just him and Kenshin. I mean, what was all that training Kenshin spent with his master for? He even had to learn amakekeru ryu no hirameki. But, reality is, Shishio died a long time ago. When he was burned alive. What he was fighting for had long gone. The new government, the new era, was already there, established. Politicians were already in position. The feudal times had gone. To explain it in the context of another film: Shishio is the older brother in Hotaru no Haka. Go figure how that movie ends, but be warned that Japan had to show Tonari no Totoro after that to I apologize I presume.
“’Salute the samurai’ must have been symbolic for the Japanese,” said koibito-san. However, a little while after, he asked me, “How do you give respect to a samurai?”
Generally, the Japanese give respect to a sempai or to an honorable person through bowing – and the respect you give the person depends on how deep the bow is. Thus, is the “salute the samurai” scene quite awkward for our wandering samurai here? Note that the new era just scrapped the feudal era; the influence of the western world was also seeping into the Eastern Empire. Kenshin respects new Japan. Likewise, new Japan, represented by Ito-san and his men, respects Kenshin’s samurai acts.
- “Kaerou.” – Kaoru
Some may be disappointed about Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno not savoring the firefly-lit farewell embrace of Kenshin and Kaoru. Nevertheless, director Keishi Otomo had already explained that the medium limited fleshing out the romance between the two – the Japanese don’t take “I love you” moments lightly. Thus, what Kaoru truly offers Kenshin is home. Rurouni means wandering; Kenshin is a nomad. For a wandering samurai, a place to call home is a blessing. Thus, when the Rurouni Kenshin movie (or series) highlights “Kaerimasu” (Let’s go home) or “Tadaima” (I’m home) moments, savor it. It’s artistic like that.
10. Anti-suicide #bodjie
This is Koibito-san’s less-than comic interpretation of the movie. In the film, Kenshin got an eventful rescue and meeting from his master. He cried that he wanted to learn the ultimate skill in hitenmitsurugi ryu. Instead of the audience getting just a training montage, we got schooled about life – which is so Japanese. Guess what: the secret of hitenmitsurugi, the key to defeating Shishio, is to value life. This is timeless and timely considering that the samurai class has a hara-kiri rule and that the suicide rate in Japan is quite high.
Ultimately, the Japanese can trick you and it’s ok. Cunningly hidden behind the comedy, the action, the hentai – for some – in every Japanese show is a lesson the Japanese want to impart to the world. Good job, Japan.