First off - many of the reviewers thus far seem to be comparing this movie adaptation to "Samurai X" instead of its source material which is the manga. What they must realize is that "Samurai X" was an OVA created for western audiences done by people who had no connection with the manga or the original anime and thus was a departure from the original intent and feel of what the creator of the manga had in mind. He even disagreed with how "Samurai X" ended regarding the fate of Kaoru and Kenshin, so much so that he insisted on having the proper ending he envisioned for his own characters put into a collector's box edition of the original anime released in Japan. Even though it was gorgeously rendered, it was overly depressing and moody. Whether you want to believe it or not, Kenshin really wasn't that way. The whole point of his redemption was that, in spite of the pain of his past, he was still able to appreciate the simple joys in life and even laugh at things. The Kenshin in "Samurai X" was a somber, overly-wrought, super-tortured fellow who was awash with his own suffering. As a fan of RK, seeing him portrayed that way in "Samurai X" really broke my heart because a huge chunk of his personality went missing and all that was left was this emo dude. Onto the review:
PLOT/STORY: Understandably, this movie had a hard time trying to capture everything in the first volume of the manga in just over two hours. Because the manga was continuous, there was no way for the movie to be cut and dry in terms of villains and side characters. The director had to draw the line somewhere so the movie could have an ending. So, many fan favorite scenes were cut or changed in order to accommodate a more fluid movie. Time constraints didn't allow for a deep fleshing out of all the characters but, since this the first installment of other movies to come (it has been greenlit as a continuing series) I suspect that the audience is going to be exposed to that over time. I was taken aback at just how many things were changed (Sano's intro, Jin'e's concocted connection to Kanryu, Hanya's choice of weapons, the Oniwabanshu but no Aoshi?!) but I felt they did their best to stay true to the spirit of the story by trying to streamline events. There is even a flashback scene of Kenshin's past included in this movie but it gave you a hint (just a hint) of his tortured past and leaves you wondering.
ACTORS: The casting was very well done for this movie. Kenshin is supposed to be relatively diminutive and almost feminine in his looks and stature (the creator based him on an actual historical figure who could carry out assassinations in broad daylight, he was that good), which is why people always underestimated him in a fight or commented on his slight figure. He was a Jekyll and Hyde that way. He could go from unassuming, humble Rurouni to out-and-out killer who's eyes would change into a murderous gaze when the "hitokiri" side was provoked (straight outta the manga). You could say Kenshin can "hulk-out" lol. Sato, with his pretty looks and physicality, really did well in portraying the conflicted character of Kenshin. Emy was cute as a button, perhaps too cute, since Kaoru is supposed to be a bit more plain and a tomboy but it was satisfying to see her bickering with Yahiko. The kid playing Yahiko was spot-on with the brashness and stubborn pride. Sanosuke's portrayal was a little goofy. There is no allusion to what drives Sano into being a fighter for hire but read the manga for clarification and you will see why he and Kenshin create such a strong bond of friendship. In the movie, there was no time to do so, I guess and Sano's a lot tougher than he is portrayed. Megumi's actress did her justice, I think. Again, not too deep in fleshing out her past either but still, you can see her intelligence and intensity underneath her manipulations. Lastly, Saitou's actor was awesome. He captured the cold, brutal carriage of the Wolf of Mibu very well with his stoic face and the constant badgering of Kenshin. I will stop at the main characters or else this will be too long. All in all, the casting was superb.
MUSIC AND CINEMATOGRAPHY: The music ranges from fairly modern (techno beats with tribal vocals) to standard orchestral. I don't remember hearing any traditional Japanese instruments being played over scenes but I could be mistaken. Sometimes the music seemed to be out of place or over-used. For example, dramatic fight scenes seemed to bring out that techno song again and again). A part of me wishes they had somehow incorporated Kenshin's theme from the original anime series; just s simple wooden flute part or something as a nod since it's so recognizable. Otherwise it was fine. The look of the movie is fantastic. Whether it's a war-torn forest or just a village scene or a shot of Kaoru's dojo, it looks thick and substantial. I remember seeing shots of the creator of the manga (Nobuhiro Watsuki) on the set of the movie and watching over the set building. It gave me great comfort that he was there to see it through.
Overall, this is one of the best, if not THE best, live-action adaptations of a manga I've yet seen. For those of you who are going to see it, if you haven't read the manga yet it certainly isn't required in order to enjoy the movie but it was thoroughly more enjoyable to see these beloved characters come to life on screen. In any case, I am greatly looking forward to the next installment and will relish in trying to figure out what storyline is going to be featured next!!