Saturday, November 8, 2014

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (るろうに剣心 京都大火編) - Mixed Feelings, and a Disturbing Malaysian Cinema Experience

Well, it's been some time since I've touched anything Kenshin related. The last one was of course the first live action adaptation back in 2012- or was it the Shin Kyoto Hen (New Kyoto Arc) OVA? I couldn't recall, so I did some digging. Facts don't lie, but they do surprise: I did publish a post on Shin Kyoto Hen, but did not cover the 2012 movie at all, despite finding it to be a realistic if somewhat (un)faithful adaptation of the original manga- a solid adaptation topped only by the Gyakuten Saiban movie (here).

On to Kyoto Taika-hen (Kyoto Inferno). The second film in a planned trilogy, Kyoto was released in Japan only a few days after I'd left the country, highly disappointing news to me at the time, since that meant that I would have to wait until who knows when for the movie to hit local cinemas (or for it to be digitally distributed). I'd originally thought of watching it with family or friends (so that would- hopefully- not have to drive), but while looking through showtimes on Friday night, I noticed that there was one screening at midnight- with an hour to go I managed to speed off into the city, find a parking spot somewhere outside the mall (I hate going inside), and had enough time to buy stuff to munch on from the concessionaire. Minor digression- if the cinema owns the concessionaire, can you still call it that? Or is there any specific noun available?

Anyhow. I'll get the latter half of this post's title out of the way first. I haven't been to the cinema by myself for some time, so this was quite an eye-opening experience for me. The hall was mostly occupied, and I found myself sandwiched between two muscle-heads. The one on my right was alright- he didn't make a nuisance of himself. He did manage to annoy me by sitting down and flicking his shoulder length mop of hair around himself like a shampoo model. The muscle-head on my left was there with a girl (presumably his girlfriend), and he seemed to feel obligated to contribute an asinine running commentary throughout the film. During a scene at the Kamiya Dojo, a chicken was shown walking around. Muscle-head exclaimed "ooh ayaaam" (ooh chicken). When Kenshin and co watched a Kabuki which surprisingly featured a comical Battousai called Bakkyuusai, Muscle-head was peeved and said "Boodoooh... Battousai lah" (Idiooots... it's Battousai). The list goes on and on. I wondered if I was sitting next to an adult with the mind of a 6 year old googly eyed boy. People like him are the reason why watching movies with friends is a good idea- you get a buffer zone from unpleasant elements.

Putting the overgrown kid aside, I have some issues with the the film's translation: I noticed that some of the English subtitles were just plain odd. At one point Shishio Makoto was subtitled as "Shishio Makato". The subbers, in addition to being careless, seemed to have a tendency to replace certain terms with ones that they felt Malaysian viewers might be more familiar with. The most glaring example would be the replacement of Bakumatsu with Shogun/Shogunate. In one scene, ex-oniwabanshu Shinomori Aoshi angrily says "俺の幕末は終わっていない!" (ore no bakumatsu wa owatte-inai!). This should literally translate to "My Bakumatsu is not over yet!". I understand that Ruroken first-timers, and people who don't have a clue about Japanese history would of course have no idea what he meant by that, but surely they could have done a better job than "my shogunate is not over yet! / for the shogun!" I can't recall the actual lines, but the translation was bad because it changes Aoshi's motivation to loyalty to the (defunct) shogunate, while what he really meant was that for him, he hasn't been able to move on from the Bakumatsu period. I gave up on the subs after that, and just paid attention the dialog- so no more examples from me. One final complaint- this one directed to the cinema's management (Golden Screen Cinemas @ Pavilion): did you forget to pay your air-conditioning bill?

[Spoilers from here on perhaps? YMMV]. On to the movie itself. As mentioned in the title, I'm still feeling somewhat conflicted about this one- having seen the first movie I was not expecting an entirely faithful adaptation. I can't recall everything in the manga so I can't do a detailed comparison, though. Kyoto did leave out many key parts of the manga (perhaps leaving them for the third film?) Some important scenes were left out: Saito testing Kenshin (ep30, one of the best fight scenes in the anime), and Kenshin going to Hiko Seijuurou to complete his training being the two big missing scenes. Fans of Sanosuke will perhaps not be happy that his role in this film was largely limited to being a noisy oaf, and that Sanosuke missed out on his own training by Anji.

I was not too happy with some other parts as well- Saito for one, just didn't seem menacing enough, and looked overly concerned for his men. While the film did well to paint Shishio as the big bad, I did feel that they spent too much time on it, and again, too much time was spent on fights with grunts. Komagata Yumi spoke even less than she did in the manga- her role seemed to be limited to staring longingly at Shishio from behind (most of the time she just says 'hai'). To nitpick even further, Okubo Toshimichi didn't have enough facial hair. This film did get me thinking (at long last) though- shouldn't the Home Minister be accompanied by bodyguards wherever he goes? One brief flashback Kenshin had me hoping that the third film would cover his past (Tsuioku-hen OVA), or  perhaps even the Jinchuu arc but I eventually realized that given how much material there is in the original Kyoto arc to cover, the 2nd movie would have to be at least 4 hours long to have any hope of covering either of those two arcs in the third movie.

Some parts I did like though- Kenshin and Kaoru are both well played, and Aoshi felt particularly dangerous, though they did change his story a little. The fights between Kenshin and Juppon-gatana members Sawagejo Cho and Seta Soujirou were both done well too, and Makimachi Misao's Kyoto-ben (accent) sounded cuter than she did in the anime. All in all I won't say that Kyoto Inferno is a bad movie- far from it- it's not bad enough to be mediocre, but not good enough to actually be called a good movie. You're probably thinking that I'm waffling right now (I'm starting to think that I am too). To conclude: I didn't like the beginning, and I especially didn't like the ending (especially what happened to Kaoru in the end), but what came in between partially made up for it. I'm hoping that the third movie will be a lot better than the second, and if possible, better than the first. Most importantly, though- ditch that overly grandiose and annoying orchestral wailing- it's really getting on my nerves.

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