Wandering warrior puts life on the line

Wandering warrior puts life on the line
Rurouni Kenshin star Takeru Satoh used to play-act scenes from the original manga when he was a schoolboy.

Watching the fight scenes in Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno makes Japanese actor Takeru Satoh wince, but not for the cuts, bruises and bumps he sustained from tripping over his old-time robes several times while filming.

"When I see myself on screen, all I see are my weak points. I keep worrying about how I will appear in the next scene," the 25-year-old says in Japanese.

Satoh wears his stardom lightly. An established TV star in Japan, he has in two years become an international name attracting hordes of screaming fans in South-east Asia, thanks to the Rurouni Kenshin action-adventure movie franchise adapted from a hit manga series by Nobuhiro Watsuki.

The sequel to the 2012 movie Rurouni Kenshin, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno opens in Singapore tomorrow and ends on a cliffhanger to be resolved in a third movie, Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, which will open here in October.

All three movies were directed by Keishi Otomo, who made his name with Japanese TV dramas for broadcaster NHK.

Satoh plays Himura Kenshin, the wandering or "rurouni" warrior of the title. In this movie, he fights a former ally Makoto Shishio (played by Tatsuya Fujiwara of Kaiji 2: The Ultimate Gambler fame), who is determined to destroy the new imperial government in late 19th-century Japan.

"I didn't think people in the Philippines and other countries would be so excited about the movie," Satoh tells Life!, overwhelmed after greeting a mob of 5,000 fans at a sneak of Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno at SM Megamall in Manila recently.

"It will show in Singapore too? I'm very grateful."

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends were shot in six months, with a production budget of 3 billion yen ($36 million) and a cast of more than 5,000 spread out over 30 locations across Japan.

The investment appears to have been worth it.

Kyoto Inferno is rocking box offices in Japan and the Philippines with record-breaking takings - 8.1 million yen in three days, the highest box-office opening of any non-animated film in Japan, while opening-day takings in Manila last Wednesday were 7.34 million peso (S$210,000), according to production company Warner Bros Japan.

The heated fan interest in the franchise has inspired movie distributor Warner Bros Singapore to bring in 16 prints of Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno for "as long a run as possible", compared to just nine weeks and the two Filmgarde Cineplexes for the first film in 2012. "We're confident that Rurouni Kenshin has its fan base," says a spokesman.

Many fans in South-east Asia grew up with a 95episode anime series based on the manga, as well as several full-length animated features, all of which were broadcast on local television in Singapore and the Philippines in the late 1990s and early noughties.

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