Martial Arts Action
Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura
Star: Aya Ueto, Shun Oguri, J Odagiri, Yuma Ishigaki, Shogo Yamaguchi
Cert / Year: R / 2003
Format: DVD R4

A young orphaned girl is adopted after the death of her mother by a master warrior who takes her in and trains her with a group of other young children to become the ultimate assassins. The young girl, Azumi grows up to be the strongest, fastest and the best of the team and soon they are told of their secret mission which they have spent all these years training for. Their mission is to kill 3 evil feudal warlords for the Shogun, in an attempt to stop the constant warring and bring peace to the country. Unfortunately one of thier intended victims learns of their mission and sets a trap for them...... And then the warlords are really in trouble.....

Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura certainly loves his wooded and forest areas, that much was evident with his cult hit Versus. Like Versus, he delivers some excellent action with brilliant direction and photography in this awkward of settings and makes great use of this surroundings providing some kinetic and well-paced action. There is some excellent use of lights and the balance is just right, unlike many other films which either flood the scene with harsh light or under light the scene entirely so you strain to see all the detail presented. Ryuhei Kitamura is obviously comfortable with this and it shows with a distinct style and vigour to his work, with an accomplished flair for this genre. Unlike many similar sort of 'lady ninja' movies the female lead appears to know what she is doing, displaying good swordsmanship and balletic flow to her movements. The choreography itself is well designed and successfully realised even with a few over the top and excessive movements like Versus but here they work far better. With the story, you get a well travelled back story of a naturally gifted warrior struggling to accept their destiny, despite trying to escape it and change her future. Azumi is forced to do what she does best... Kill, and as no matter how many external battles she can win, she can never win the internal one.

The effeminate fruit and decidedly camp creepy bad guy, Bijomaru insists upon wearing a white robe and holding a rose but is deliciously over the top and reasonibly effective as a sinister super samurai slasher. His ultimate 'desire' was a little silly but it works so well with the generally excessive feel of this live anime adaptation. The 'monkey face' character is mostly rather amusing in a silly, cheesy, over the top Monkey kind of way, but he does enjoy some good moments especially with the occasionally well-placed battle and his comedy quirks. There are some cheesy and camp moments but they are easily overlooked due to the brilliant action set pieces, which are well designed and choreographed and look the business. The photography of the action sequences, like Versus are inventive and almost as exciting as the battles. As you would expect from Kitamura, heady camera angles and full on battles ensure that this is far from a boring watch. Some of the camera work is a bit violent and a dizzying rotary camera shot, which is straight out of a U2 music video and becomes a little nauseating after a while. As with Versus, a back-to-back sword fight creeps in, albeit shorter than its predecessor, but is admirable and still works well. There are some impressive special effects and a couple of big explosions and a very Darkman moment, some good effect work and a bullet time-esque sequence which works very well indeed.

Kitamura makes good use of bullet time in a couple of the fight scenes, which is a nice change bearing in mind that most action films are now using bullet time for the sake of using bulle time. I like Ryuhei Kitamura's style, he brings some top class action to the screen while doing something diferent in terms of story and often directorally. I can't wait to see what is next, and we won't have to wait too long either, because Versus 2 and Azumi 2, are BOTH in production!

Overrall, the performances are quite good with a good mix of characters and talent. Former leading man in Versus Tak Sakaguchi gets a supporting role here as one of the psychotic but amusing 'Sajiki brothers'. Such is the story, that it is a little unclear as to just who exactly are the real bad guys and who are the good and it is left up to the viewers perspective. The 'heroes' are pretty cold and callous most of the time and unflinching in their mission whereas the alleged bad guys don't appear all that sinister and don't have the equal conviction of their adversaries.

There is copious amounts of blood and a ridiculously high body count added to a frenetic blast of excellent action and swordplay. Ryuhei Kitamura serves up another bout of good old fashioned Japanese super violence and frenetic action srved up as an appetising treat for fans of Asian action fantasy. Kitamura's direction is very slick and the is an improvement in places to Versus with some well designed action and photography. Kitamura certainly excels at this Manga-esque tour de force brand of action and violence and when compared to Versus this a marked improvement, unfortunately it doesn't quite know when to finish and there are about 3 or 4 endings in succession which would have each provided a good point to stop. The ending indecision does let the film down a bit, although it does allow several options for the sequel (which is currently in production).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Excellent crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Not a bad mix
Features Cool animated menu
Main Feature
Features 6 TV Spots - Including Q & A with star Aya Ueto
"Fighting the Edge" - Featurette
"Battle on the Wild side" - Featurette
Original Theatrical trailer
Profiles of cast and crew
Music Video
Art Gallery
Verdict Not a bad 2 disc set. The text is all in Japanese, which can make menu navigation a bit of pot luck, unless you can read Japanese of course. Decent set of extras but they would be better if we had a dubbed track or English subtitles throughout.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home