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!