To state the obvious, this review contains a fair few spoilers if you’re yet to see Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno, so please bear that in mind before reading on.
All things must end and the legend of Rurouni Kenshin is coming to a close, for this chapter at least. Continuing on directly from the dramatic cliff-hanger ending of Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno we’re once again right in the middle of the battle between two former government assassins - the fearless killer Battosai, now rehabilitated and known as Kenshin Himura, and the crazed villain Shishio who narrowly survived being burned on a funeral pyre by the very government who once employed him. Shishio is still hell bent on bringing down the nascent Meiji government, preferably with as much damage as possible and the only one who can stop him is Kenshin - with a little help from his friends, of course!
At the end of the last film, Kenshin found himself washed up on a beach and carried off by a mysterious figure (played by big-name actor Masaharu Fukuyama - Like Father Like Son and star of the 2010 Taiga drama Ryomaden also directed by Ohtomo, in a secret cameo). In not quite the biggest coincidence of the film, this figure just happens to be Kenshin’s mentor Seijuro! This is handy, because Kenshin really needs to learn the ultimate swordsmanship technique before he’ll be able to take on Shishio and win. That’s not to mention facing off against Aoshi, who just wants to kill Battosai so he can be the number one badass and become today’s prettiest face on all the wanted posters around town. Kenshin certainly has a lot on his plate, but the future of the new Japan rests on his reverse bladed sword alone.
Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends were filmed back to back and released with only a short interval between them in Japan - you could argue it’s more one sequel in two parts than two separate films. Picking up right where Kyoto Inferno left off, The Legend Ends maintains the first film's high production values and impressive action sequences though, it has to be said, with a lengthy lull in the earlier part of the film. Were the two films watched back to back, this “cooling off” period may feel a little more necessary to provide a bit of breathing space between the frenetic ending stretch of Kyoto Inferno and the lengthy battles towards the end of The Legend Ends, but when the second film is watched in isolation it can’t help but feel a little slow to get going. Nevertheless, when the battles come, they come thick and fast and display some of the best swordplay sequences of any recent film. Often breathtaking in the fluidity with which it captures these beautifully choreographed sequences, The Legend Ends only improves on the promise of the first two films when it comes to the action stakes.
Unfortunately, this does lead to other aspects of the story being sidelined somewhat. This is really the Kenshin vs Shishio show - not a bad thing in itself but it does mean there’s less time for everyone else. Even big stars like Yu Aoi (Megumi) wind up with one scene only while Emi Takei’s Kaoru is relegated to looking pained in the background. Fan favourite character Sonsosuke gets the most airtime providing his trademark comic relief, and Saito still gets to smoke and look cool with his Drunken Angel era Mifune-like floppy hair to bring his characteristic powerful indifference to every single scene he’s in. Still, fans of the manga in particular may feel disappointed as their favourite scenes and characters get short shrift - especially given the speed at which some of the much feted Ten Swords are met and dispatched in the final battle.
It may be way too long, but The Legend Ends is a fitting finale to this exciting saga. Packing in a number of fantastically choreographed action sequences the film also makes sure to bring Kenshin’s internal story to a satisfying climax (though leaving room for a return to his world should the opportunity arise). Engaging performances, interesting direction and high production values all ensure this trilogy of Rurouni Kenshin live action films has been one of the most successful Japanese mainstream efforts of recent times. Another sterling effort from this expert team, The Legend Ends may not be the strongest entry in the series, but remains a fantastically enjoyable treat!
Rurouni Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends is released in selected cinemas from 17th April 2015 courtesy of Warner Bros. UK.