Noburo Watsunuki probably had no idea just how popular "Rorouni Kenshin" would be. What started out as a manga became a long running TV series and has spawned a major animated movie. "SAMURAI X Trust and Betrayal Director's cut" (aka. Ruroni Kenshin: Meiji Kenkaku roman tan: Tsuioku hen) is the precursor to the TV series, and tells the origins of the assassin called Kenshin Himura. Both "Trust and Betrayal" have been edited together, combining the 4 OVA episodes into one coherent movie. If you've seen "Reflections" then you will need to see this installment to fully understand the roots of its story. The film is based on the "Romantic Tales of the Meiji Era" and scenes were added to give the script a lot more continuity and more detail.
A samurai in his purest form were built upon a technique that is as much a science as an art form. A samurai would live and die under his code of Bushido--they embraced art, culture and were philosophers in their own right. I loved the classic samurai tales of Kurosawa, Kobayashi and Okamoto. Director/writer Kazuhiro Furuhashi along with screenplay by Masashi Sogo has captured the spirit of the chambara classics and essence of the romantic classics in anime form. Telling fictionalized origins but partly based on true accounts, this is the story of Hitokiri Battousai--the man who kills men like a demon.
During an attack by bandits, a young boy named Shinta was rescued by a highly skilled swordsman named Seijuro Hiko. Touched by the boy's passion and sense of justice, he trains the young boy in the teachings of the Mitsurugi style of swordplay and renames him Kenshin Himura. Kenshin (voiced by Mayo Suzukaze) is an idealist, very pure in his beliefs in creating a better world. Kenshin is recruited by the leader of the Choshu clan to perform acts of political assassination, and he becomes the most feared assassin in Kyoto. However, Kenshin's soul is becoming as war torn as the battlefields of Japan--his bloody work slowly stripping away his humanity. Kenshin still hopes for peace and finds his hopes personified in a beautiful woman named Tomoe (voiced by Junko Iwao) who shows him a life beyond the sword. Sadly, Tomoe is also torn by ghosts from her past. Can Kenshin and Tomoe save each other and find happiness?
The film's backdrop is set during a civil unrest in 1864. Different factions are in a struggle for power and the ruling Shogunate is known for enforcing abrasive laws. The Shinsengumi are the enforcers of the governing body and they are tasked in quelling rebellions before they come to fruition. All clans have their own brand of justice and they all believe they have a noble cause. Such is the Choshu clan to which Kenshin is affiliated with, they believe their cause is honorable and Kenshin lends his sword to their brand of justice.
While the show does have its levels of political intrigue, and has the usual elements of honor, duty and loyalty; the film focuses on Kenshin. His emotions, doubts and hopes take center stage, as well as his relationship with Tomoe. I really liked the detailed execution of the screenplay and the structure of its storytelling. It just so full of emotions and I was very impressed. Director Furuhashi knew exactly what he was going for, and while the story itself isn't wholly original, I couldn't help but be very involved with its storyline. Hatred and revenge, disappointments, love and redemption--betrayal, loss and tragedy are the film's main strengths. The film has a very serious tone and the animated cinematography is both beautiful and sad, with some use of metaphors and symbolism, fitting to the film's main premise. The film just manages to flesh out and define each and every emotion (or shifts in emotions) to give a fine narrative impact.
The film also has an abundance of swordplay. The fights are exquisitely animated and very bloody--the usual Japanese trademark of splattering blood is used to emulate its violence and brutality. Heads are stabbed, bodies are cut in half, necks are slashed. The film is perfectly animated and the camera shots are quite similar to jidai geki films such as "Lone Wolf and Cub" and "Azumi". The action is nicely placed and each encounter carries a lot of expressive impact and at the same time, cold and visceral. The scenes of violence and brutality is an inherent part of its plot and not unwarranted as with some other anime who uses this effect as a gimmick. It is not your kid's anime.
Those who are used to the animation in the "Rurouni Kenshin" TV series may be taken aback. Its style is quite different and has no over-expressive bulging eyes. The colors are occasionally muted to convey its mood, although some shots are colorful but nonetheless retains a dark and gloomy atmosphere. The eyes and facial expressions show a lot of humanity--when a character is in emotional pain, the camera will linger a bit to make the viewer feel the running emotions. The rendering is simple and while not exactly as accurate (clothes and hair styles) historically, it maintains an anime style, but it didn't hamper the film even one bit. The music is also quite enthralling and goes nicely with each scene to reflect the mood.
"Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal" is a very good film. It is not perfect but it is just so entertaining and touching in its execution. It succeeds in delivering much needed emotions and has given anime fans a good reason to celebrate. It can satisfy action fanatics and delivers an intelligent, cleverly structured samurai drama. Its subtle touches in wordplay, metaphors and melodrama are well-balanced that proved to be a very good re-watch. The film has definite replay value and is a fantastic companion film to the TV series. After you see this, you will love the TV show even more. Deeply tragic and quite beautiful in structure, this anime movie is Highly Recommended! [4 ½ - Out of 5 Stars]
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