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The film, based on the manga by Yu Koyama, opens with Azumi (pop star Aya Ueto), as a small child, languishing over the body of her dead mother. Orphaned in war, she comes under the tutelage of Master Gessai (Yoshio Harada, Izo). After Gessais son died in war, he vowed to end the constant power struggles razing all of
Much of the allure of Azumi is the ironic conception of the character herself how can this demure, childlike girl be this astoundingly efficient killer? Director Ryuhei Kitamura (Aragami: The Raging God of Battle) and writers Isao Kiriyama (Godzilla: Final Wars) and Rikiya Mizushima actually do tackle this question, albeit only on the most superficial level. All the bloodshed, not the least of which comes from herself, reminds Azumi of when she was orphaned. She longs to leave the life of an assassin, but her mission beckons and life gets in the way. One can just imagine her exclaiming, like Michael Corleone, Just when I thought that I was out they pull me back in!
Theres nothing more to the character than that, and actress Aya Ueto, no matter how strong a physical presence she is with her perfect skin or voluptuous Angelina Jolie-like lips, fails to bring up anything more psychologically interesting. The four boys teamed with Azumi on her assassinations are even less individualized. With contemporary hair styles and Peter Pan personalities totally anachronistic to the time period, the boys are around just to keep the plot moving. The villains range from the warlords Gessai wants assassinated to a trio of drunken mercenaries to a psychotic serial killer, Bijomaru Mogami (Jo Odagiri, Bright Future), who also happens to be a master swordsman. Sporting a flowing white robe and a red rose, he is The Joker to Azumis Batman. Bijomaru boasts that the reason his sword needs no hand guard is that he always attacks and has never had to defend.
Kitamura made his name with Versus, a yakuza-battling-zombies cult movie that looks better on paper than on the big screen. It was non-stop action in a film that seemed like it would never end, inducing both tedium and numbness. With the practice of three films under his belt, he fares somewhat better with Azumi, which could still use some trimming. At 128 minutes, it could easily lose 20. Like Versus, its one of the most violent movies ever made, though mostly in quantity, not quality.
Kitamura expresses the mentality of a teenager, which is both good and bad for his artistry. He loves the kinetic feel of filmmaking, the impact of editing together fluid motion, and the physicality of clashing steel and flying bodies. His manipulation of audience sympathy and bloodlust and the iconic poses emulates Sergio Leone. But also like an adolescent, Kitamura hasnt quite mastered his craft and he likes to indulge himself. This leads his movies to having a marketable cool quotient, but he is always derivative, never original.
Like Quentin Tarantino, he does steal from the best pulp Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades), Toshiya Fujita (Lady Snowblood), and
- George Wu