Rurouni Kenshin was the most talked about manga in school when I was a kid. Naturally, I couldn’t ever imagine myself meeting Keishi Otomo, the director of the film trilogy – let alone interviewing him as my first reporting assignment.
The original article is available on The AU Review Hello Asia.
I was so nervous, but thank God it went on smoothly..
Otomo-san, welcome to Australia. Are you surprised with the level of international attention to the trilogy?
I am so happy that it’s being screened in Australia. Obviously, Rurouni Kenshin is originally a manga that has travelled the world already so when we make the movie it became a hit in places like Singapore and Indonesia that are actually part of English speaking world. So to have the film accepted in English-speaking world is a great thing because basically that’s exactly what you hope for. I studied filmmaking in Los Angeles so it’s great that I can send something back to the English speaking world.
Rurouni Kenshin was originally a black and white manga series by Nobuhiro Watsuki. What difficulties did you have as the screenwriter to bring the characters of Watsuki-san to life?
The difficult part is that audience will come in with their own image of what the characters are like. That’s because of the manga that you can see in the market. When we were going to adapt the characters for the screen, we actually have to dig deeper – at a certain point you get to see something about the character as to what makes them that character.
So if you take Kenshin as a character, he used to be an assassin but he doesn’t want to kill anyone anymore so he carries with him a sense of original sin that he has to pay for and that’s why he carries a sword with which he can not hurt anyone because the blade is facing the wrong way and that’s the call of the character. That’s the very essence of the character that I pulled out.
What’s more important when adapting these manga characters to screen is that we don’t really want to do it just to make it look like the manga but actually carry the deeper part of the story that is right throughout the piece and carry it carefully throughout the story. This is what I told the original writer, that’s what I’m going to do.
Then you have an interesting problem because Kenshin in the manga wears a red kimono from the beginning but the thing is if you imagine a person who has killed people in the past and doesn’t want to kill people anymore and doesn’t want to be seen; will that person wear red on the street?
So, we have to incorporate another idea – we had Kenshin travelling the world in a grey wardrobe until he meets Kaoru who handed him the red kimono. That’s something that changes in the film. To carry out the representation properly, we had to do the same kind of digging down, finding the core and then giving the proper characterisation to all the characters. That was the difficult process.
The costumes chosen for Rurouni Kenshin was another highlight of the films. How much work was involved to keep this as authentic to the Meiji Restoration time period as possible?
There’s a guy who design for mode (the Japanese term for “high fashion”) in Japan who designed all the costumes. We have a lot of design staff and the costumes are specially designed for the films.
Shishio Makoto, the character that appeared in the second and third movie, is meant to be wrapped in bandages but if you wrap someone in bandages in action scenes the bandages fall off. So what we do with that character is that we actually cover him in leather with an under suit that is like Spiderman and then dress the leather to look like bandages. So all the characters’ wardrobe is actually specifically designed so that they could look right but still be used in action scenes.
So all aspects of the wardrobe is really really dedicated until the bottom line – even like selecting silk, it actually feels different and people move differently as a result of that. So, we invest a lot of time in that.
One of the features of Rurouni Kenshin we were most impressed about in Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy was the character development and their on-screen chemistry. Can you talk to us about the casting of Satoh Takeru as Kenshin and Takei Emi as Kaoru?
For Kenshin films, I casted actors I have worked with before because I know what they can and cannot do. I trust them because I know they can move this well and that well because of the assignments we have done together. I am working with the best actors in Japan I can get in that sense.
The choreography of the combat scenes in all three films is quite stunning. Did you have any inspirations behind choreographing these fight scenes? Which of the combat scenes was your favourite to shoot and why?
The very last fight scene in the third film is an epic battle featuring one on four. Jackie Chan has a movie called Project A and the climax is one on three but we wanted to go one further and go one versus four. So I think we actually defeat that one [laughs]. So, I guess that’s the one I enjoyed the most.
Thinking back were there any parts of the original manga series that was left out of the screenplay that you would like to be included if there wasn’t time or budget constraints?
[laughs] Yes, there are. There are a lot of scenes I would like to include [laughs].
Lastly, what are your plans for the future?
I have started preparation for future projects but unfortunately I can’t discuss the details.
Rurouni Kenshin trilogy were screened at the Japanese Film Festival Australia in 2014. Find out more about the festival http://japanesefilmfestival.net/.