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In war-torn Japan, the Tokugawa Shogun, desperate to restore peace to his people, orders the assassination of the hostile warlords. A beautiful young woman is raised from birth with nine other orphans, to become an assassin. Her name is AZUMI, the ultimate assassin.Written by
Japanese game developer Hideo Kojima (famous for the Metal Gear Solid series) appears as one of the outlandish ruffians killed by Azumi in the final battle. See more »
In the fight to make them assassins, after Azumí strikes Nachí: First scene - Azumi's chest is covered in blood; Second scene - Azumi'chest is clean; Third scene - Azumi'chest is covered in blood again. See more »
I'm not too familiar with Japanese cinema especially the Chambara genre but I had come across director Ryuhei Kitamura's cult favourite Versus a couple of weeks before viewing this flick, so I wasn't expecting great things. Versus, which Kitamura wrote and directed, was simply a collection of mindless gore sequences lacking any kind of storyline, that was, frankly, one long bore. Sometimes, the term 'cult' seems to be a euphemism for 'popular with undemanding teen horror-fiends'.
Luckily, Kitamura handed over the writing duties to Yu Koyama, creator of the Manga comic script upon which it's based, and producer Mataichiro Yamamoto, and I only hope Kitamura steers clear of his lap-top from now on, because Azumi is an absolute pearl of a movie that seems to revel in the mythical warrior story it relates. True, there is a huge amount of bloodletting (the death toll runs into the multiple-hundreds, and we get to see them all in vibrant in-your-face bloody colour), but there is also a reasonable if a tad simple and clichéd storyline, and, for this type of movie, a lot of attention is given to character development.
Japanese teen-star Aya Ueto plays the eponymous heroine, an orphaned waif rescued from the roadside by a master warrior and his small entourage of equally waif-like protégés. Hidden from the world until they reach their late teens, this unlikely 'family' is trained in the art of swordplay by their master as preparation for their mission to rid the country of three troublesome warlords who are committing wholesale slaughter throughout the land.
Half of these orphans are killed within fifteen minutes of the opening credits, and the manner in which their deaths are contrived serves notice that this is to be no ordinary mindless action flick. By subjecting the survivors to such a horrifying ordeal, the writers slickly manoeuvre the audience into identifying with the previously nondescript bunch in a matter of minutes, where less accomplished writers would have needed half-a-dozen scenes to achieve anything approaching the same result and probably convey little of the emotional impact created by Koyama and Yamamoto.
Ueto, while looking far too cute to be a fierce warrior, gives a good account of herself. Kitamura even plays on this by having a rival assassin enthusing over her cuteness as they do battle and moments before she runs him through with her sword. Ueto may make an unlikely assassin, but crucially she doesn't make an unbelievable one.
This film is crammed with memorable characters and scenes: the fey but deadly bad guy, Bijomaru (Jo Odagiri, looking like an undernourished Phil Oakey, c.1983), decked out in flowing white robes and carrying a red rose, who giggles with glee when fighting a worthy foe, and swishes his sword distractedly through the long grass as he observes the effect of the latest wound he has inflicted upon his adversary; Saru, the warlord's sidekick, possessor of an astounding hairdo and a habit of uttering monkey noises as he fights, and Azumi herself, who is never just a cipher, but who questions the validity of her mission at every turn, and resists, futilely, the life that has been mapped out for her. Cinematographer Takumi Furuya's kinetic camera-work is also worth mentioning especially the astounding sequence in the climactic battle between Azumi and Bijomaru, during which the camera vertically rotates 360 degrees around the action.
Azumi is a real barnstormer of a movie; great fun to watch, and deserving of a much larger audience than it has received in the West.
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