In Keishi Ohtomo’s sequel, Kyoto Inferno, Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sato) wants nothing more than to settle down with friend Kaoru (Emily Takei), and to move away from a violent past, where he was a savage, notorious assassin. However when the evil-spirited Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) intends on overthrowing the government using sheer force and brutality, Kenshin is approached with the task of protecting his land and help to prevent a civil war breaking out, and though he has vowed to never kill again, he is pushed to the limit when coming up against an opponent as nefarious as Shishio.
Though a huge hit in Asia, there’s nothing preventing this universally themed tale from gaining some momentum worldwide, because at its core, Kyoto Inferno is the tale of an underdog, and one who seeks peace against an evil adversary – a traditional narrative that is resonant and appealing in any language. However it is advised to try and see the preceding endeavour before settling in to watch this sequel lacks context, and a greater understanding of this world and of Kenshin’s tumultuous past is essential.
The conventionality of the story is not extended into other areas, as a picture that thrives in its unique subverting of the typical action hero. Unlike the vast majority of pictures that revel in swordplay and violence, Kenshin resents the notion of murder, offering a rare, positive message of tranquility. He’s also something of an effeminate creation, androgynous in his appearance, which again goes against the usual preconceptions of a leading protagonist in films of this ilk. Nonetheless, the villain, Shishio is somewhat more archetypal, covering his face with bandages, appearing as an infallible force, and a worthy opponent for our hero to come up against, which makes all the difference. If you don’t fear and despite the villain, it takes away any sense of suspense or intensity – but from the moment we meet Shishio, surrounded by fire and bodies hanging in his intimidating lair, we know he’s someone you do not want to mess with.
Sadly, however, and in a similar vein to the latest Hunger Games offering, it’s difficult not leave this title feel a little unfulfilled. As the first part of a two-headed sequel, it feels as though we’re constantly building up to something special, something captivating – and yet before we actually have the chance to indulge in the pay-off, the closing credits begin to roll. Plus, as this picture stands as two hours and twenty minutes – that proves to be something of a problem.