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Film / Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

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"Japan is about to lose its way. Shishio will seize his chance. It's war. See you in Kyoto."
Hajime Saito

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (るろうに剣心 京都大火編, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Taika-hen) is a 2014 Japanese live-action film based on the Kyoto arc of the Rurouni Kenshin manga series by Nobuhiro Watsuki. It was released in Japanese cinemas on August 1st, 2014, and serves as the second installment in the Rurouni Kenshin film series.

Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) couldn't be any more happier. Not only has he continued to stay true to his pacifism, he has also found a new home with Kendo teacher, Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei). This peace is interrupted when the Japanese government arrives at his doorstep with an important mission: to eliminate former Ishin Shishi soldier, Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara). Having survived a fiery assassination attempt just minutes after the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, Shishio has planned for revenge by unleashing a reign of terror upon Kyoto. Thus, Kenshin must enlist old friends and new allies to take down Shishio's army and protect the city at all costs.

This film is followed by Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, which was released one month later.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Kenshin's first scene has him watching a kabuki play where the villain is pretty obviously a hammy expy of himself, but he just sits and laughs with the rest of the audience.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade:
    • Compared to the source material, Aoshi has been grieving the deaths of his fallen comrades for a whole if not over a decade.
    • Inverted with Kaoru, Megumi and Yahiko, who didn't take Kenshin leaving for Kyoto as hard as in the source material. Even Sano, the only one voicing how upset he is about it, wasn't as angry in this continuity.
    • Possibly also inverted with Misao since she is aware of the tragic fates of Aoshi's comrades in this continuity. She's also not as affected by Aoshi's madness compared to the source material.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Played with across all the newly-introduced characters, which makes sense considering the more realistic aesthetics of the film:
    • All characters affiliated with the Oniwabanshu are regular human beings, most notable with Aoshi Shinomori's subordinates (none of them freakish in body shape or aesthetic). Aoshi himself is close enough to his anime counterpart down to the bangs (which is admittedly unusual in Real Life).
    • The trope is pretty much subverted with Shishio, who is a reasonably-attractive man with blackened skin in the anime, while Tatsuya Fujiwara is made up as realistically as possible to convey the horrifying burns and subsequent health problems a man like him should have.
    • The Juppongatana as a whole is a mixed bag: while Seta Sōjirō, Sawagejo Chō (beyond a wardrobe color change), Sadojima Hōji and Uonoma Usui were pretty much accurate to their anime portrayals, the more outlandish members were downscaled to more human-like proportions. For example:
      • Kariwa Henya is stylized as a normal human being with a tengu-inspired outfit, instead of being tengu-like in physique.
      • Yūkyūzan Anji is a big man, but nowehere near as beefy as he was in the source material.
      • Iwanbō appears to be an actual man of sumo wrestler proportions, in contrast to his blob-like inhuman nature in the manga/anime.
      • Saizuchi appears as a normal if elderly man, even capable of combat on his own.
      • Fuji, instead of being gigantic, is an imposing white-haired man with a big naginata, but is otherwise normal.
  • Adaptational Badass: A majority of the skillset of the main characters and supporting cast were expanded upon in this film:
    • It's worth reiterating Kenshin's upgrade in unarmed combat compared to the manga. He's so proficient, in fact, he single-handedly wipes out Chō for a portion of the fight by leading him into a cramped space underneath a temple, where his long swords would be useless, and proceeds to whale on him barehanded.
    • Kaoru, apart from her kendo skills, is shown to be capable of wielding a naginata (albeit a wooden training one) at the height of the Kyoto Inferno operation. She's nevertheless reduced to Improvised Weapon after it breaks from stress.
    • Yahiko is equipped with a bokken and is shown to be easily taking down many of Shishio's mooks himself (when the most he's been able to defeat prior to the Kyoto Arc were Yutaro, and Hiruma Gohei in filler).
    • Misao was able to show off her close-quarter combat capabilities, whereas she almost always relies on kunai in the source material.
    • Okina, beyond using his trademark tonfa, was also comfortable in using a katana. He also manages to last long in his battle with Aoshi without getting a hand maimed by a kodachi.
    • Hōji is more of an Action Survivor than a complete Non-Action Guy like he is in the source material.
    • Not necessarily to a character but to a weapon: Sawagejo Chō, "the Sword Hunter", used the two-bladed Renbatou as his ultimate weapon against Kenshin (as the Whip Sword Hakujin no Tachi of the anime is quite impossible to do without CGI). The Renbatou can be utilized creatively and deployed as massive scissor-like blades.
    • Most remarkable, however, is the fact that Saizuchi is capable of wielding a naginata and was among the first to attack Kenshin at his climactic faceoff with the Juppongatana at the Rengoku (see also Adaptational Attractiveness).
  • Adaptational Modesty:
    • The Oniwabanshuu's outfits are more ninja-like compared to their somewhat Stripperific ones (of the females at least) in the source material.
    • Yumi Komagata's kimono doesn't sport an Impossibly-Low Neckline like in the source material and instead sports an "off- the-shoulder" one.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Once again, while it's relatively justified considering the vast scope of the Kyoto Arc (the storyline is continued in The Legend Ends), many details and events in the series unfolded differently, leading to a quite original narrative altogether.
    • Most remarkable in this respect is the radical change in Aoshi's Origin Story, by virtue of being Adapted Out from the first film: He snapped 10 years earlier at the fall of Edo and the Tokugawa Shogunate, when he failed to save the members of the Oniwabanshuu (here regular people) from execution by the surrendering Shogunate soldiers themselves.
    • Since the fight between Kenshin and Saito have already happened in front of Yamagata in the first film, Kenshin was fetched by Kawaji to Okubo's office to discuss the business with Shishio, with only Sanosuke being with him. This leads to the protests of Kaoru, Yahiko and Megumi being left unheard by Okubo himself.
    • As Saito has already left for Kyoto at this stage, Sanosuke being beat up before heading for Kyoto was done by Aoshi instead.
    • The farewell conversation between Kaoru and Kenshin were done during late afternoon instead of nighttime; in turn, Kaoru was more composed (if a bit distraught) in seeing Kenshin off, instead of crying herself out. Subsequently, Kaoru and Megumi's conversation about Kenshin's human limits was moved up from the end of the Kyoto arc into being Megumi's attempt to convince Kaoru to follow Kenshin in Kyoto. (This is because Kaoru, in this continuity, was trying to move on with her life and dojo management instead of pining away, making Megumi's scolding of Kaoru unnecessary).
    • Kenshin and Misao, by virtue of their lack of mutual connection with Aoshi in this continuity, were forced to work together by Eiji's sudden appearance and kicking off the Shingetsu plot.
    • The story removes Senkaku altogether in the context of Shingetsu's conquest, giving off the assumption that Shishio did it himself.
    • Since Kenshin has yet to renew his training under Hiko Seijuro (this was moved to The Legend Ends), Kaoru and Yahiko reuniting with Kenshin was substituted for Misao witnessing his fight with Chō, as well as discovering that Arai Shakku's last sword was the sakabatō shinuchi.
    • The preparations to prevent the Kyoto Inferno operation was spearheaded by Okina and not Misao, as he was yet to have his duel with Aoshi.
    • The duel between Okina and Aoshi did not occur in a hidden Oniwabanshu hideout, but in the Aoiya itself, giving their fight a more grave personal weight (and which renders Misao's witnessing of its aftermath all the more heartbreaking).
  • Adaptation Expansion: The Kyoto Inferno operation was originally a covert arson attempt nipped in the bud at the last minute by Kenshin, Saito and Sanosuke coordinating with the Oniwabanshu (who informed the entire population), even ending with the destruction of the Rengoku. In this film, the Kyoto Inferno battle was a more major threat, considering it involved hundreds of mooks, policemen, Oniwabanshu, as well as Kaoru and Yahiko, compressing the original and the defense of the Aoiya from the anime. This sets up for the twist that after all the Kyoto-based forces were spent, Shishio and the Juppongatana were able to sail with the Rengoku intact and with Kaoru in tow, allowing Shishio to actually threaten Tokyo and the Meiji government.
  • Adapted Out:
    • Sanosuke did not learn Futae no Kiwami, as he did not cross paths with Anji at all en route to Kyoto.
    • Similarly, Senkaku was nowhere to be seen during the Shingetsu sub-plot.
  • A Father to His Men: Once again, Saito plays the part with seething vengeance after his unsuccessful bid to capture Shishio ends with the death of almost his entire squad (save himself).
    • The film portrayal of Kawaji Toshiyoshi is portrayed along this light as well, with the same Tranquil Fury while showing Kenshin the corpses of dead police officers, supposedly murdered by Shishio's men to coincide with Okubo Toshimichi's assassination.
    • Probably the main constant factor in Aoshi's revised Origin Story: trying (and failing) to save his men from execution by their own allies in the Shogunate led to his bitterness against the changing world and his obsessive grudge on Battosai.
  • Age Lift: Surprisingly averted in most cases by actors who are only a few years off their manga counterparts. However, despite still being portrayed as Kenshin's younger sidekick, 19-year-old Sanosuke is played by 34-year-old Munetaka Aoki, compared to Takeru Satoh, who's only 25. Similarly, 26-year-old Aoshi is played by 38-year-old Yusuke Iseya, and 34-year-old Saito by 46-year-old Yosuke Eguchi.
  • And Starring: The CBB lists Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shishio) this way.
  • Ascended Extra: Not exactly translating to screentime, but the swordsmith Arai Shakku (whose face was obscured in the manga and anime) appears here in full view and with a proper exchange with Kenshin himself.
  • Bad Boss: It is a mystery how Shishio can command the Undying Loyalty of so many of his mooks when he seems to have little regard for their welfare and job security. See how he callously brings down two of his lairs with his men in it, and how he basically picks a few of them to kill for sport with the recently-acquired Nagasone Kotetsu.
  • Blood Knight: Shishio and Aoshi are in fine form in this film.
  • Body Double: The Japanese term itself (影武者, kagemusha) was invoked by Kenshin, after learning that the Shishio which appeared amongst the chaos of the Kyoto Inferno battle was only among one of dozens of doubles dressed up like Shishio, sent to wear his stamina down further.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with a confrontation between a hero and Shishio in a location belonging to the latter. The hero shouts out Shishio's name, and fails to stop the villain in the process. To hammer home the similarities, the first instance takes place in a flaming lair, while the last scene is set on the Rengoku, where a torrential downpour occurs.
  • Brief Verbal Tic Imitation: When Aoshi first runs into Sano, he asks Sano if he's seen Battousai. Sano replies that there's no Battousai around here, but says 'de gozaru' at the end of his sentence rather than the more usual 'da' or 'desu', just like Kenshin.
  • Call-Back: In the previous film, Kenshin evaded Sanosuke by using a pole to vault himself clear across a river to the other side. This film, Sanosuke attempts to replicate the feat... to considerably less success.
  • Canon Foreigner: Takano, a police chief in Kyoto who serves as Saito's Number Two, replaces the chubby nameless Police Chief that Saito rendezvous with in the original.
  • Cliffhanger: The movie ends with an unconscious Kenshin washed up on a beach after watching Kaoru possibly drown. If that wasn't enough, Hiko Seijuro picks up Kenshin and carries him to his home, presumably to train him once he awakes. Better watch the next one!
  • Character Tics: As Sōjirō's Super-Speed has been toned down, the movie portrays his hopping on one foot as more of a habit then technique.
  • Covert Group with Mundane Front: True enough, the Aoiya managed by Okina served as the legitimate front of the Kyoto Oniwabanshu during the Tokugawa period, and facilitated their members' successful integration to the civilian population after the Meiji Revolution. As shown in the film, their networks are still active and operational.
  • Covert Pervert: A more subtle example than most: in Yahiko's first outing to Kyoto, he was unable to stop looking at the Geishas he came across with.
  • Cute Bruiser: Misao and Yahiko would definitely count, considering their mowing of hundreds of Shishio's mooks, in contrast to their age and size.
  • Death by Adaptation: Due to being Adapted Out in the first movie, Aoshi's comrades died at the dawn of the Meiji era instead of at the hands of Kanryuu during the Megumi Rescue Arc.
  • Demoted to Extra: The rest of the Juppogatana except Shishio (obviously) Sōjirō, Chō, Yumi and Hōji doesn't have enough screentime nor a single line.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: It's strongly implied that Okubo and many in the Meiji government weren't happy with the price they all had to pay in order to usher a new age for Japan.
  • Disney Death: Kaoru was thrown off the Rengoku by Hōji to the stormy sea, forcing Kenshin to jump after her and be overwhelmed by the waves as well. The last minutes of the film did not addresss what happened to her; her survival, however, was pretty much confirmed by the trailer to The Legend Ends.
  • Doing In the Wizard: This movie, much like the last, generally tones down the abilities of the manga. Every fighter is still implausibly acrobatic and strong, but they are not outright X-Men levels of powerful anymore.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Faithful to the manga and anime, Okubo Toshimichi's assassination being Truth in Television (as well as the Historical In-Joke in the series about the Real Life Ichiro clan supposedly merely taking credit for Sōjirō's deed).
  • Gender Flip: It is implied that this version of Kamatari is an actual woman instead of a cross-dresser.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The first scene involves the Kenshin-gumi watching a kabuki performance about the assassin Bakkyusai. Apart from the blue kimono, exaggerated shaguma for hair and the cross-shaped scar of Bakkyusai looking closer to a Buddhist manji, no one's commenting on the fact that someone who looks exactly like the guy on stage is part of the audience. Also doubling as Your Costume Needs Work to an extent.
  • Hidden Supplies: The Oniwabanshu have an armory stashed in the attic of their inn, plus smaller caches hidden around the more public areas, such as Okina's tonfa being hidden inside a pair of scrolls left on a shelf.
  • Historical In-Joke: Yahiko frequently says "Why not?" in this movie, but he phrases it in a specific way: "Ee ja nai ka?"
  • History Repeats: Shishio's "Kyoto Inferno" plot is a perverse mirror of how the Boshin War and Meiji Restoration played out, specifically invoking the plots prevented in the Ikedaya Incident and Tokugawa Yoshinobu's feint against the Imperialist forces at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi.
    • The prologue involving Shishio's flaming wooden lair, which involved the deaths of Saito's men and the Buddhist monks inside, highly invokes the massacre in Mt. Hiei ordered by Oda Nobunaga (incidentally also Shishio's hideout in the manga/anime). Fittingly, Shishio's ambitions and charisma have been traditionally attributed to Nobunaga himself in fiction.
  • Incendiary Exponent: Fitting for an operation entitled "Kyoto Inferno," this was blatantly invoked by Shishio's men at the outset when they brought in a flaming pagoda to battle with the Kyoto police, which managed to unnerve some of them.
  • Large Ham: Shishio opens the movie in a flaming lair, delivers somber put-downs to Saito and his current career, and brings down the house literally with everyone inside save Saito. One can accuse Shishio of many things. Lack of showmanship is not one of them.
    • Considering who his master is (and how fanatical he is from the source material), Hōji is fittingly the Juppongatana's hype-man during the launch of the Kyoto Inferno operation (with even a megaphone-like conical device). He basically gobbles up chunks out of the Rengoku while manhandling Kaoru, and then kicking her off the ship down to the raging sea.
    • On the good-guy side, there's Sannosuke, who usually acts as comic relief with his OTT expressions.
  • Le Parkour: Both Kenshin and Sōjirō are doing it in fine form: the latter using it to chase Okubo's carriage and carry out the assassination, the former hopping across rooftops and bridges to lay the smackdown during the Kyoto Inferno battle and chasing Sōjirō on horseback, who successfully knocked out and kidnapped Kaoru.
  • Madness Mantra: Aoshi's defining trait in this film is his repeated shouting of "Battosai wa doko da?!" (Where is Battosai?!)
  • Magic Pants: The real miracle of Shishio's origin story is not his surviving being burned to a near-crisp, but his pants surviving.
  • Malevolent Architecture: A shocking live-action example: the flaming hideout of Shishio where Saitou and a regiment's worth of policemen stormed into (platforms and niches made out of wood, standing under a sea of flames and filled to the brim by dozens of Buddhist monks chanting incessantly) is probably the stuff of nightmares (and probably what Shishio's vision of Naraka/Jigoku might be). Less horrifying but no less imposing is the dock where Shishio's ship, the Purgatory/Rengoku is being built and supplied. Both sets were intentionally obliterated at the end of their scenes: the former commanded to be brought down by Shishio himself (together with his men, the monks and Saito's), the latter when the Rengoku sets sail during the middle of a storm. Considering how easily-destroyed they could be, this also probably doubles as No OSHA Compliance.
  • Militaries Are Useless: Subverted. The authorities in the Kyoto arc films (mostly implied to be civilian politicians) are both demoralized from Shishio's actions and straining to keep a straight face before the Western powers. As a result, they're forced to rely almost entirely on Kenshin to save the country. On the other hand, the police forces under Saito's command make a good accounting of themselves.
  • Mook Lieutenant: One lead's the soldiers at Shingetsu. He speaks for the group and is distinguishable from them by having an eye-patch. He's essentially given Senkaku's role in the story as the head of the soldiers stationed in the village though the film never confirms if he was the one who killed the boy's parents.
  • Mythology Gag: Several nods to the source material are peppered throughout the film:
    • Kenshin's changing kimonos (red, blue with floral patterns, white) are actually outfits he wore in some official artwork from the manga.
    • The entire "souvenir" plan of Shishio involving Kaoru being kidnapped, placed in mortal danger and then seemingly succumbing is pretty much the central point of Yukishiro Enishi's Jinchu.
    • The Body Double (影武者, kagemusha) tactic above was a concept Aoshi discussed when he was investigating Kaoru's kidnapping disguised as her murder in the Jinchu arc.
    • Among Aoshi's subordinates killed in the fall of Edo Castle was a man with long hair and a remarkable vertical scar over his eyes. While he was explicitly called Ryujo, his last stand protecting Aoshi from gunfire pretty much harkens Shikijo's Heroic Sacrifice (protecting Aoshi from Kanryu's Gatling gun), even delivering last words similar to his.
    • Misao packed multiple kunai during their preparations for the Kyoto Inferno battle, nodding to her iconic usage of them in the series.
    • Kenshin bought a toy windmill in the streets of Kyoto as a gift for Seiku's son Iori, which he was supposed to give before finding out the boy was kidnapped. A toy windmill was prominently featured in the end credits of the Tsuiokuhen/Trust and Betrayal OVA.
    • While Chō's final weapon was the Renbatou, the leather straps inside his cloak were arranged nonetheless to resemble the absent Hakujin no Tachi.
    • Shishio declared that bringing down the Battosai was as big a victory as conquering Japan itself, and must be done if he is to succeed. Indeed, in forcing him to go after Kaoru in the sea and knocking him out of commission, he is now free with the Rengoku and the Juppongatana to threaten Tokyo.
    • Kenshin riding a horse to quickly chase Sojiro, who kidnapped Kaoru, to the still-intact Rengoku reminds us of the anime filler "Super Horse" he rode while chasing a train.
    • The samurai who congratulate and then stab Shishio in the failed attempt to kill him are lead by a nameless character who looks a lot like Tashiwachi Shindo, the man who similarly betrayed and assassinated Captain Sagara in the source material. The large white headdress in particular has lead some to wonder if that was a cameo appearance by Shindo.
  • New Era Speech: Shishio's monologue to Saito inside his flaming lair loudly declares his desire to usher in another age reminiscent of both the worst of the Sengoku period and World War II-era Imperial Japan.
  • Once an Episode: A few similar scenes from the first film:
    • Kenshin will almost always begin a fight with dozens (if not hundreds) of mooks via blocking the sword-wielding arms with his crossed wrists, and then end with a closeup of the last mook's face after being knocked out. In this film, however, this was split between the Shingetsu battle and the Kyoto Inferno battle.
    • There will always be dead people (most likely Meiji government policemen) being mourned by their orphaned relatives, and Kenshin will almost always flash back to his murder of Kiyosato (and witnessing Tomoe mourn).
    • Like in the previous film, Sanosuke has to swing the zanbatou (still intact) and leave it with the mooks, and yet get it again afterwards.
    • Similarly, Kaoru has to be kidnapped by the villains and placed in mortal danger.
  • The Remnant: The Oniwabanshu/"Hidden Watcher" ninjas in Kyoto are a surviving remnant of the old Shogunate's spy network. Okina himself says, nonetheless, that unlike most cases of this trope (and in sharp contrast to Aoshi's Edo/Tokyo Oniwabanshu units, who were eliminated), they were better-adapted to survive the changing times than most.
  • Say My Name: Aoshi, multiple times Aoshi. BATTOSAI WA DOKO DA?!?!
    • Kenshin eventually emits a feral SHI-SHI-OOOOOOO!!!! after he threatens to burn Kaoru's face, and then kill her.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: Shishio hammily cuts off Kenshin's declaration to save Kaoru with:
    Shishio: Would you stop talking like a damn samurai!
  • Signature Move: Besides his usual Hiten Mitsurugi moves, the movie adds Kenshin's ability to run almost parallel to the ground, as it happens Once an Episode. He apparently did it enough In-Universe that its mocked up in a Kabuki performance portraying him.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Evidently, Chō follows the trope with a sleeveless white longcoat.
  • Social Darwinist: Shishio. And much like his manga incarnation, he seeks to shape Japan into this, essentially bringing about the Imperial Japan of World War II several decades early.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: A low-key example, in that Kenshin almost always manages to appear next to Misao whenever she tries escaping him after stealing his sakabatō.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Invoked by Yahiko about Kenshin, after the latter calmly expresses disappointment at Kaoru following him to Kyoto:
    Yahiko: See, I told you he's alright. A man treats a woman like a pest when she's around, but he's actually very happy to see her.
  • Taking the Bullet: The Oniwabanshu members under Aoshi, literally, defended him from Shogunate personnel shooting at him when he was trying to save them.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Straight from the source material, Kenshin's remark about Okubo's aging was responded to by the latter lamenting how "it is easier to destroy an old era than to build a new one."
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Shishio and Aoshi share this burning desire to defeat/kill Battosai, subsequently claiming the title of the strongest, which is present in the source material. The film, however, plays this up to eleven considering how they obsessively compete for his attention (Shishio more successful in gaining the attention of his "senpai" in this respect).
  • "Well Done, Dad!" Guy: Shakku, apparently, felt this way about his career as a swordsmith and the livelihood he left to his son Seiku, which explains why the last sword he made was the sakabatō shinuchi (and is also expressed in the death poem engraved in the blade).
  • Would Hit a Girl: Shishio's Mooks fight Kaoru and Misao without holding back. In the climatic scene, Hōji kicks Kaoru off the ship.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Like in the source material, Chō took Arai Shakku's infant grandson Iori hostage, in order to get his last creation.
    • Shishio's Mooks fight Yahiko without holding back.
  • Wrecked Weapon: The iconic first match between Kenshin and Sōjirō leads to the splitting of the first sakabatō, but also did not leave the cutting-edge of Shishio's prized Nagasone Kotetsu unscathed.