AZUMI 2: DEATH OR LOVE (2006)
While this sequel isn’t a bad flick, it is a disappointment after the comic book-style roller coaster ride that was the first installment. Sequel is also directed instead by The Gamera Trilogy’s Shusuke Kaneko and Kaneko creates a more somber and traditional feel for the movie which also seems to be done on a lesser budget and scale.
Story picks up after the first movie with Azumi (Aya Ueto) and Nagara (Yuma Ishigaki) vowing to finish their mission to assassinate their final target, Sanada Masayuki (Mikijirō Hira). Things get complicated for Azumi when they join a group of bandits whose leader Ginkaku (Shun Oguri) bears a strikining resemblance to Nachi…the man Azumi loved and killed. Now the pretty assassin once again begins to doubt her occupation and path in life as she is falling in love all over again.
Kaneko is obviously a good director as his Gamera flicks prove, but may not have been the right choice to follow up the kinetic and colorful first flick. Kaneko has a more traditional style and we get a more laid back and sometimes somber story this time and one that appears to be far smaller in scale and possibly budget. The pace is a lot more moderate though it does have it’s share of top notch sword fights and there is plenty of bloodshed. The film seems to focus more on the dramatic aspects than the action, though and it’s characters are far more subdued even with more comic-ish characters like Roppa (Kengo) and the spider-like ninja Tsuchigumo (Tak Sakaguchi). The script is again by Mataichiro Yamamoto who co-wrote this time with Yoshiaki Kawajiri and seems to focus more on the character interplay and intrigue, this time, creating a more intimate story as opposed to Azumi‘s epically scaled tale. It does’t quite have the uniqueness Kitamura’s style of directing embellished his film with and stands out far less from the more routine sword flicks from Japan. The cinematography by Yoshitaka Sakamoto is a bit more muted in color thus further removing the more comic book/manga feel from the movie which overall is still a well made and satisfying conclusion to the story began in Azumi.
Again it’s Aya Ueto’s show, though she shares a lot of time with the other characters and is more part of an ensemble this time. She is solid as she was in part one and still gives Azumi a nice conflicted personality when hardened assassin collides with the young woman who dreams of a normal life she may not be able to have. The rest of the cast are very good, especially the returning Yuma Ishigaki as her only surviving teammate, Nagara and Kazuki Kitamura as Kanbê Inoue, who has now aligned with Sanada. The characters are less colorful, but performed well.
While the film is a disappointment when compared to Kitamura’s original, it’s still not a bad flick on it’s own. It has some good action and the cast, especially Ueto, do perform well, it just a more moderately paced and scaled adventure that tones down the more comic book aspects for a more traditional samurai flick approach. It does complete the story arc satisfyingly while giving us a Sergio Leone-esque ending that leaves the door open for Azumi to return someday. As Aya Ueto is still in her early thirties and Kitamura hasn’t had much success in his US film career, hopefully that happening is still a possibility.
Azumi is a colorful and fun Japanese action flick, based on a manga by Yū Koyama, that is directed by maverick Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. The story tells of young Azumi (Aya Ueto), who is orphaned as a child and taken in to be trained as an assassin for the Shogun, by master Gessai (Yoshiro Harada). She and nine other orphans are split into 5 teams of two for an extensive decade of training. Azumi is paired with handsome Nachi (Shun Oguri) and the two fall for each other over time…until the day they have finished their training and Master Gessai orders each student to fight their long-time partners to the death, as a final test. Having slain the man she loves, Azumi now goes out with the other four survivors as part of a team of hardened and skilled killers on their first mission…a mission bathed in blood and death.
True to it’s roots, Azumi is a comic book-ish and action packed period adventure as directed by Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla: Final Wars) from a script by Mataichiro Yamamoto and Isao Kiriyama. Kitamura makes most of his trademarked over-the-top style with spectacular action, beautiful visuals, outlandish and colorful villains…such as the flamboyant Bijomaru (Joe Odagiri) or the monkey-like Saru (Minoru Matsumoto)…and a beautiful but deadly badass as our heroine. Azumi is the perfect killer with the look of sweet young girl and the skills of a seasoned assassin. While she has been hardened by her training and having to slay the person she loved most, there is still a beating heart in the chest of this warrior and Ueto plays the struggle between assassin and young girl nicely. The film is filled with some very energetically choreographed sword fights, but nothing can prepare one for it’s massive action finale where swords…and swordsman…fly and blood spills generously. It’s a battle of one against an army and it doesn’t disappoint. There is also a rousing score to support the action by Taro Iwashiro and beautiful cinematography to capture the visuals and action by Takumi Furuya. Sure it may get melodramatic at times, but it’s a real treat for fans of these movies and has an epic feel to go along with all the action and Kitamura brings his energetic style to the proceedings, full blast. It’s an old-school samurai flick with some very contemporary cinematic touches and it doesn’t skimp on the blood and guts either.
There is a very large cast here of colorful and stylish characters who are all portrayed well by the cast with the right amounts of restraint and over-the-top when needed. It’s pretty Aya Ueto’s show though and she portrays both a strong woman warrior with nerves of steel and lethal skills, but at the same time, gives us a young girl with a heart and a conscience. There is a bit of a conflict within Azumi and Ueto balances it well. She makes a very endearing and memorable heroine. Beautiful and badass.
I really like this movie. Sure the script could have been a bit tighter, but Kitamura splashes the screen with spectacular and colorful action, interesting and stylish characters and gives us a very likable heroine to root for. The settings and costumes are sumptuous, as is the visuals and cinematography and the action, relentless. At over two hours it’s never dull and has a fast pace propelled by it’s maker’s energetic direction. It also gives you a bang-up, non-stop finale where Azumi racks up quite the impressive body count. Followed by a sadly disappointing…though not all that bad…sequel Azumi 2: Death or Love directed by The Gamera Trilogy’s Shusuke Kaneko.
3 and 1/2 swords!