Last weekend, Japan Film Society ran is its fourth successful LA EigaFest from September 12 to 14, at the Egyptian Theater. Run entirely by volunteers, the Los Angeles based film festival showcases Japanese and Japanese influenced films “that appeal to the broad American audiences,” hoping to promote Japanese talent in Hollywood and connect the US and Japanese film industries.
Following its steadily built tradition of banging out big hits for its opening and closing features, this year LA EigaFest opened with the LUPIN THE THIRD live action, and closed with the US premier of Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno. I was lucky to snag a ticket for the sold-out Kyoto Inferno showing.
In 2012, LA EigaFest premiered the first Rurouni Kenshin live action, and brought out Director Keishi Otomo and co-start Munetaka Aoki (Sagara Sanosuke), with a special opening speech from George Takei. Otomo’s skillful adaptation of the early Rurouni Kenshin stories, combined with his incredible representation of historical scenery and costumes, titillating action scenes, and of course, superb casting, blew me away.
If the first RuroKen movie blew me out the theater, Kyoto Inferno shot me into space. The historical sets and costumes were somehow even more astounding, and the suspense and drama left the entire audience shaking silently in their seats.
Released in Japan on August 1, 2014, Kyoto Inferno brings back Takeru Satoh (Himura Kenshin), Aoki, Emi Takei (Kamiya Kaoru), and Yosuke Eguchi (Saito Hajime), who continued their roles with brilliance, and were joined by Tatsuya Fujiwara (Makoto Shishio), Ryunosuke Kamiki (Seta Soujirou), Yuusuke Iseya (Shinomori Aoshi), and Tao Tsuchiya (Makimachi Misao).
Fujiwara brought the classic antagonist Shishio to life, with daring make-up that transformed the bandage covered animated character into a terrifying burn scarred villain. Entering through pillars of fire, Fujiwara’s portrayal brought new depth to Shishio’s character and kept the audience wide eyed on every appearance.
With his friendly, sociopathic smile, Kamiki jumped out as Soujirou in a way that left me biting my nails. As with the first movie, Otomo insisted his actors perform their own action scenes, and Kamiki’s unique way of bouncing his feet added unbelievable suspense, along with his speed and footwork that matched elegantly with Satoh’s.
And the Oniwabunshuu clan, called hidden watchers by the movie’s subtitles, had their own share in the drama. Tsuchiya balanced Misao’s cheerful nativity with a strong, fighting ninja, and gets her fair share of victorious kicks and jabs against plenty of male minions. Iseya was a stark contrast – his angular face and dark eyes brought a new layer of madness to Aoshi that sent chills up my spine, and left the audience tearful as the final battles played out.
By the end, Kyoto Inferno left the audience clawing at the floor, dying for more. Kyoto Inferno rolls through the first half of the Kyoto Arc – the story will continue in the sequel film, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends.
The Legend Ends was released in Japan on September 13, 2014, and will hopefully make its way to American audiences soon.
With hearts still pounding, the audience handed out plenty of applause as the credits rolled. LA EigaFest’s staff had spoken briefly before the movie, promising video messages especially for the festival. I was disappointed that we didn’t see any guests this round, so I figured video messages were better than nothing.
Furthering my disappointment, the messages weren’t a live feed, and seemed to be quickly filmed via skype or some other internet video service, and chopped into awkward pieces. The three messages came from Satoh; the creator of an old manga, Buichi Terasawa (author, Cobra); and the artist for an even older but better known manga, Tetsuya Chiba (illustrator, Ashita no Joe). Satoh’s message was barely a few seconds, in which he basically said hello, and that he was glad the film was showing at LA EigaFest. Terasawa also greeted LA EigaFest attendees, but then rambled for some time about nothing related to the movie or the festival. Chiba also said very little but spoke for a while, though his message was at least relevant to the festival, mentioning that such film festivals help promote new talent.
The after party, which came with the movie ticket, consisted of open bar, a DJ, and a photobooth. With its relaxed atmosphere, attendees enjoyed milling about and taking photos together, though no one danced, and even the bar had very little line by the end of the night. The time to socialize was still much appreciated, and I hope a tradition that LA EigaFest carries on.
Overall, while the video messages were nothing to miss, I loved being in the crowd of fans, amidst their applause and reactions. Though the movie started 30 minutes late, LA EigaFest’s staff is friendly and organized, and I look forward to next year’s festival.