Rurouni Kenshin (Sato, 2012)

Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Inferno The Legend Ends

     The 2012 film "Rurouni Kenshin" (Japanese: るろうに剣心) is a live-action adaptation of a popular Japanese manga and anime series (also known as "Samurai X" in some markets), centering on a wandering former assassin in the late 19th Century during Japan's change-over from an insular society to a Western-influenced one.  After vowing to never kill again, he begins using a "reverse blade sword", in which the knife edge is the dull side.  Kenshin finds friendship in a small village, but when a local drug lord threatens his new friends, he is forced to confront the drug lord and his army in his lair.  After the drug lord has been dispatched, Kenshin is confronted by a survivor of the previous war and again almost forced to kill again.


     The film's composer, Naoki Sato (佐藤 直紀), is best-known for his anime soundtracks, but in more recent years he has done a few live-action features (many of which were adapted from manga or anime series).  His style is fairly eclectic, but often uses electric guitar or electronics with his orchestral elements.  In Rurouni Kenshin, many cues notably feature solo instrumental improvisations on violin, oud (lute), bansuri (wood flute) and shenai (ethnic double reed).  The violin especially has a virtuosic "gypsy-like" flavor, which nicely matches the concept of the wandering swordsman.  Besides the ethnic soloists, the other main elements are tribal drums, ambient electronics and electric guitar, sometimes supported by strings and brass.
  • Violin: Keisuke Ohta
  • Electric Guitar: Hidetoshi Suzuki
  • Oud: Yuji Tsunemi (常味裕司)
  • Bansuri: Taro Terahara (寺原太郎)
     Thematically, solo instruments are often used to represent characters or scenarios (gypsy violin appears during lethal swordplay moments, oud with Jin-e's attacks, electric guitar with other battle scenes, drums for raising a battle's intensity).  Melodically, main themes include the Kenshin theme (Main Title), and a more poignant "No Killing" theme often on strings and horns.


Trk Dur Title Film Sequence, Music features
1 3:48 The Battle of Gyoan
暁闇の戦い
0:00: Soldiers fight with rifles, cannons and swords in a blue-filtered forest battle.  Saito Hajime searches for the Hitokiri Battosai (Kenshin). 
Violin, bansuri, shehnai over ambient textures/low fast pulses, ambient swells.
2:01: Kenshin fights many warriors.
Aggressive drums/percussion.
2:50: The warriors all lie dead.  Saito finally reaches Kenshin.
Violin over ambient textures resumes.
2 3:58 (Rise of Jin-e)/
Towards a New Era
(Main Title)
生生流転 ~新時代へ~
0:00: When Saito confronts the Battousai, Kenshin sticks his sword in the ground and shambles off.  Many half-buried bodies lie on the ground.  One survivor, Jin-e, rises.  .
Bansuri over soft ambient textures.
1:29: Jin-e grabs Kensin's abandoned sword and hears screaming voices.  He realizes who it belonged to.
Wailing solo voice with delay enters ambient texture (now with low bass pulses).
2:01: Main titles.  Kenshin rides a small boat.  A government official tells an assembled squad that the new government must survive.
Drum accent into fateful Kenshin theme with strings/drums/voice/male choir/synth pulses, joined by brass swells, ending in low synth.
(Entire track also used when Jin-e impales himself at the end of the final fight, followed by Kenshin carrying Kaoru away and a final conversation with Saito).
3 2:49 (Kanryu's Theme)
観柳帝国 ~我執の猛~
0:00: After having many workers killed at his estate, Kanryu lets Megumi live.  One  worker escapes out the window  (also, Kanryu feeds his slave army in front of Saito, then at the restaurant when he offers Kenshin money to work for him, when he receives his gatling gun, etc.).
Wry Kanryu theme with strings/percussion/harpsichord/brass in a waltz rhythm, developed in various interludes.
4 3:02 (Confrontation)
狂血
0:00: Megumi asks the police for help.  Jin-e (pretending to be the lethal Battousai) attacks the police force and decimates them.  Megumi attempts to flee.  Jin-e uses his hypnotic stare to mesmerize a policeman.  He finds Megumi has escaped out a back window (also for when Kenshin confronts Jin-e in the forest, who has captured Kaoru).
High tones/low synth pulses, joined by ambient textures, brass gliss into oud/distant male choir chant/low synth pulses.
5 1:52 Encounter 1
邂逅 (壱)
0:00: Kaoru encounters Jin-e and tries to fight him.  She is disarmed and about to be killed, but Kenshin appears and knocks her out of the way.
Ambient noise/choral textures joined by string noises (oud), slams/drum accents/low synth pulses, ending in rising gliss accent.
(followed by 12)
6 2:44 (Path of Karma)
業の道
0:00: During a rainstorm, Saito identifies Kenshin and takes him out of prison to see his old commander, Yamagata.
Bansuri over ambient throbbing textures.
7 3:03 (Kenshin Fights Henchmen at Kaoru's Dojo)
人斬り抜刀斎 ~殺人剣~
0:00: Kenshin confronts Kanryu's gang of hooligans who disrupt Kaoru's dojo.
Violin over ambient textures.
0:51: Fighting begins and Kenshin dispatches the gang using only his hands.
Drums enter with harpsichord tremolo, intercut with bansuri and violin ornaments.
1:37: Fighting continues inside the dojo.  The gang eventually realize they are fighting the real Battousai.
Drums developed with syncopated ethnic string figures, violin over ambient textures/pulses.
8 2:40 Reverse Blade Sword
逆刃刀
0:00: Saito mocks Kenshin's reverse-blade sword.  He attacks Kenshin to draw out the "old Battousai", but Kenshin maintains that he will not use his sword to kill.  Yamagata calls off the fight (also used when Megumi cures the sick people of the rat poison, and also a variation at the end of Kenshin's fight with the blonde fighter).
Bells/synth string layers, joined by bansuri, building texture based on string ostinati with bansuri ornaments, ending in climactic accent with ambient ornaments.
9 1:49 Rurouni
るろうに
0:00: Kaoru gives Kenshin a red outfit.  Kenshin feels optimistic (also at the end when Kaoru looks for Kenshin and finds him with a basket of food.  She welcomes him home).
Peaceful ambient string-synth/guitar feedback textures based on No Killing theme, sustained melodic texture.
10 1:53 (Kenshin vs Sano)
喧嘩上等!
0:00: Outside the market, Sanosuke (Sano) chases Kenshin in order to impress Kanryu.  Kenshin eventually convinces Sano that Kanryu is not worth working for.
Shamisen/ethnic percussion/bansuri action rhythm with bass pulses, becoming hesitant strings.
11 6:50 No Killing 1
不殺 (壱)
0:00: When seeing a woman mourn over of Jin-e's victims, Kenshin has a flashback to when he was assigned to assassinate a man for the greater good.  In the flashback, he kills a group of men in a dark alleyway.
Violin over ambient textures.
1:58: One man refuses to die and manages to cut Kenshin's cheek (also when Kenshin cuts Jin-e's head near the end of the final fight).
Soft, poignant strings over low ambient hum.
3:35: Kenshin delivers the killing blow and then staggers away, shaken.
Violin over ambient textures.
4:34: The next day the dead are gathered in the rain.  Kenshin sees a woman mourn the final warrior.  Kenshin questions his orders.  In the present, Kenshin stands with his eyes closed in a bamboo forest (also at the end of the final fight: Kenshin breaks Jin-e's elbow, Kaoru stops Kenshin from killing Jin-e).
Soft rising string figures, No Killing falling theme on strings.
12 4:31 Keraku's Dream
けらくの夢
0:00: Kenshin notices Kaoru's dojo.  She tells him that she must fight Jin-e in order to defend the reputation of her father's style.  Kenshin tells her not to risk her life needlessly.
Electric guitar feedback swells in a melody over low ambient texture, joined by slow falling/rising string synth figures, additional guitar feedback layers enter, developed with more strings.
13 5:03 Hiten
飛天
0:00: Kenshin and Sano fight Kanryu's army at the gate.  As they approach Kanryu's house, Kanryu throws money out the window to egg his men on.
Vocal wails with delay over bass pulses, joined by ambient textures, leading to Kenshin theme on strings/drums/vocals/electric guitar, electric guitar solo layers over drum/synth rhythm, string theme re-enters.
2:36: Inside, Kanryu wonders why Kenshin fights.  He decides to make preparations.
Bansuri over synth bass pulses.
3:28: The fight outside continues.  Kenshin and Sano break into the house.
Kenshin theme resumes, joined by noble string counter-figure, ending in low bass hum.
14 4:23 1st
Dungeon
0:00: Kenshin fights Kanryu's blonde, masked, armed henchman in a room of traps while Sano fights a Buddhist thug in a kitchen.
Electric guitar/drum rhythm with electric organ arpeggios/vocal wails, developed on string figure/rhythm, accents, vocal figures, etc.
2:16: (alt mix) Sano and the Buddhist fighter have a snack break.
Electric guitar solos in layers over rock rhythm.
3:30: Kenshin and the blonde fighter continue fighting with blades.
Electric organ arpeggios/vocal wails return, ending in accents.
15 0:49 2nd
Dungeon
0:00: Kenshin and Sano dodge Kanryu's gatling gun fire.  Kanryu is beaten with the help of Saito.
Fast action rhythm with strings/low brass/drums, building with vocals into electric guitar layers.
16 2:11 Encounter 2
邂逅 (弐)
0:00: (alternate mix with oud solo) After Jin-e puts a breath-paralyzing spell on Kaoru, Kenshin fights harder.
Oud over ambient/choral textures, joined by slams and bass synth pulse, drums, rising texture.
17 4:18 Critical
臨界
0:00: (partially used) Fighting becomes more intense.
Bansuri (delayed), then violin over ambient howling textures, joined by bass synth pulses and isolated ambient swelling accents.
18 4:04 No Killing 2
不殺 (弐)
0:00: Kenshin confronts Megumi after she heals the sick people and she has a flashback to when she worked for Kanryu. 
Thoughtful strings/brass figures.
1:08: Kenshin thinks about Megumi's story, and decides that he must confront Kanryu.  Sano joins him.  They discover that Megumi has left a note.  Megumi approaches and enters Kanryu's estate.  Kenshin tells Kaoru and Yahiko to wait at home.
Soft rising string figures, No Killing falling theme on strings/synth with rising counter figure, developed on brass/strings, ending in held synth.

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