*** Note ***
Do you think your small spoilers can defeat my wu-dang style?
These movies were released in 2003 and 2005, respectively. My friendly neighborhood, mom and pop video store in china-town had copies for rental. The versions I got were the Japanese cuts, there certainly will be different editions for North America. Azumi is slated to be released on October 6.
These movies are based on a particularly graphic comic book of the same title. The movies are set at the beginning of the feudal wars in Japan – a tempestuous time when no one had any control over of the country and the future seemed as bleak as the hard times of the past. What does this mean for the casual viewer? Lots and lots of ninjas.
A former army general rounds up and trains a group of children to be master assassins. As the kids grow, their expertise surpasses any regular warrior. Once their training is complete they finally learn the truth about their mission. Then they realize that war and killing is a complex and ethically ambiguous endeavor. Azumi, who is the female lead and the heroine of the story, is very conflicted about all her actions, whereas some of her teammates approach the debate with cold, mechanical efficiency and others absolutely break down. As the mission continues, more and more of the Azumi’s friends are killed off, leading up to a final confrontation and battle.
The first movie flows into the second without missing a step. It would seem that they made the movies simultaneously. But, I should warn you that they weren’t actually shot by the same director. Azumi was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and Azumi2 by Shusuke Kaneko. Once the second film pulls away from the end of the first movie, this becomes rather apparent because Kaneko does not have the same level of artistry or expertise with creating the shots and maintaining the action.
The movie stars Aya Ueto, a well known Japanese Idol, meaning she acts, sings and is very cute. This was not a very complicated part to play but she did it as well as anyone could have expected from a martial arts movie. The other actors can’t stretch their acting skills because their characters are one dimensional. There are some notable cameos in these two films: In the first, Video game designer Hideo Kojima (Metal gear Solid Series) appears as a wild, staff wielding ninja. In the second, Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo from the Kill Bill series) appears as a temperamental traveling performer.
Azumi was a fun filled ninja movie with plenty of action and enough backstory to make the viewer care about the characters. Though there are flaws, the production values of the special effects was pretty low, the acting was suspect and there wasn’t enough character building to make the characters very interesting, these are all present in every other action film.
Azumi 2: Death or Love, on the other hand, was brutally difficult to watch because the director tried retcon all kinds of new information into the previous movie. Since the separation of the films is non-existent, it cheapens watching the first movie because none of the details remain. An example of this in the he first film, Azumi buries her fallen comrades and in the second film some of them have escaped their graves and again walk the earth.
The first film was an interesting film with a few plot holes but as a whole it worked for me. For the great fight scenes, the interesting if not goofy side kicks and overall enjoyment of this film it gets a 7/10 or 3 out of 5 stars.
The second film was a dreary attempt to recreate the first movie without any consideration of the logical evolution of the characters, the story or the action. There are many fight scenes but they are haphazardly pasted together with a with a paper thin plot. For the terrible new additions to the story, the unpolished looks of the shots and a general failure to build on the framework that was left by the first movie, this film gets a 4/10 or 1.5 stars out of 5.