Stephen reviews: Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal (1999)

Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal [るろうに剣心 追憶編] (1999)
AKA Rurouni Kenshin: Reminiscence, Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuioku-hen

Starring Mayo Suzukaze, Junko Iwao, Nozomu Sasaki, Masami Suzuki, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki

Directed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi


The Rurouni Kenshin series has never been one of my favorites. In fact, I rather disliked the TV series when I gave it a try many years ago. But I’ve heard great things about the film version, which was renamed to Samurai X because that made it sound cooler. The TV series was a misguided slapstick comedy that really didn’t hit very well with its humor. I only watched a few episodes before writing it off as bland and unappealing. This film on the other hand (which is actually a re-edit of a direct-to-video mini-series) is an intense historical drama about a man gone numb from killing, and his growth towards becoming the character portrayed in the TV series.

As an origin story, you don’t need to have any knowledge of the series. It makes just as much sense either way. It starts with a boy nearly getting killed by bandits who massacre the slave caravan he had been trapped in. But a kindly wandering samurai wipes out the brigands and takes the boy under his wing, naming him Kenshin. Kenshin grows up to be a master swordsman with a burning desire to fight for justice. In so doing, he abandons his master’s seclusion and joins a rebellion against the shogun.

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Stephen reviews: Black Jack (1996)

blackjack_1Black Jack [ブラックジャック] (1996)
AKA Black Jack: A Surgeon With the Hands of God

Starring Akio Ohtsuka, Mayo Suzukaze, Yuko Mizutani, Ai Orikasa, Shin Aomori

Directed by Osamu Dezaki


Black Jack is one of my favorite Osamu Tezuka characters. Upon first reading the manga, I was struck by the parallels he had to American superheros. Just like a superhero, he has a code name while the general public has no idea what his real identity is. Just like a superhero, he operates outside the law, saving lives through a kind of vigilanteism. He has superhuman skills that allow him to perform amazing feats no one else can. He doesn’t quite have a cape, but he’s got a cool trenchcoat that looks like one. He’s even got a kid sidekick that he rescued from certain death. (One character in the film refers to Pinoko as his daughter, but that’s not actually true. However, her origin story is too complicated and irrelevant to the film to bother getting into here.) The only real difference is that Black Jack doesn’t fight crime; he fights disease.

He’s an unlicensed surgeon that can perform any surgery on pretty much any living creature, and his villains are the illnesses that threaten their lives. I wondered even after my first encounter with the character whether Tezuka was making a deliberate critique of the comic book superhero, or if it was all just a coincidence. There’s definitely something to be said about Black Jack’s inherently peaceful means of saving people. With the kinds of superpowers showcased in the comic book industry, why do they almost never seem to be used in constructive ways? A superhero claims to be saving the world, but even though that is true, saving the world usually turns out to be a massive fist fight that levels half of Manhattan. Was Tezuka subtly wagging a finger at the superhero genre for proclaiming violence as the sole means of solving the worlds problems by creating his own superhero that did the exact opposite? I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure, but watching this movie made me contemplate these questions more than ever.

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