Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Distributed by Asia Vision
Not Rated. Recommended for mature audiences
Running time: 128 minutes
Bonus features: The Making of Azumi, the U.S. Production, The Battle of the Creators, About the Actors Featurette, Cast and Crew Profiles, a hidden music video and more.
Includes both Japanese with English subtitles and English Dub
Reviewed by Jon Minners
When Asia Vision first launched earlier this year, the heavily touted manga-inspired Azumi was its flagship title, released in movie theaters as other Asia Vision fare were released to the masses on DVD. But as America braces for the holiday season, the long awaited commercial release of the Azumi DVD is here, providing fans with an opportunity to discover what all the hype is about.
In 19th Century war torn feudal Japan, a master samurai takes on the task of raising 10 orphans to be unstoppable assassins. Their mission, although not made clear to the students, is to do the work of the state and silence the feudal warlords who are trying to continue a war that they refuse to acknowledge has ended.
After a decade of harsh training, Azumi and her cohorts are given the undesirable task of turning on one another; their final test before being sent out into the world to complete the mission. But the true test emerges when Azumi starts questioning the task, her loyalty to her master and her country and her own femininity. Will she overcome these mental obstacles and complete the bloody task at hand?
Azumi, while cartoonish when watched with the optional English dubbing, is quite the epic adventure when seen as it was meant to be viewed; in its original Japanese language.
Viewers will get over two hours of well choreographed, hard-hitting bloody battles with body counts that mirror video games dealing with a similar subject manner.
But there is a whole lot more here than heavily exaggerated, Kill Bill-style bloody imagery. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, depicting feudal Japan in all of its historical splendor, as does the wonderfully designed and seemingly accurate attire.
The characters are fun and while not enough is done with Azumi to make her a well-rounded personality, enough was shown to leave viewers rooting for her and excited about the possibility of more depth in future, almost guaranteed adventures.
On character that stands out is Azumiís main enemy. Bijamoru is a perfect contrast to Azumiís character. While Azumi is a female with strong masculine characteristics, struggling to find her femininity, Bijamoru is a strong and skilled male fighter with a strong feminine approach, even utilizing a rose in his attacks. The two are almost perfectly suited to battle.
A somewhat lacking attempt at deep themes, such as Azumiís uneducated view of the world and its nuances are balanced out by some over-the-top scenes of comedy, one of which features two brothers and a rather unique, if not totally over the top arm wrestling contest.
In addition, the film showcases dynamic camera work, outside of one unnecessary 360 degree rotation around a duel between Bijamoru and Azumi on an elevated plank. There are some great shots depicting the severity of the situation with a great number of enemies fitting on one screen, seeming to envelope our heroes during many instances in the film.
Azumi is very impressive and ambitious with a very good flow that keeps viewers interested from beginning to end. Azumi sets itself apart from cheesy samurai and kung-fu flicks that tend to find their way to American audiences and while not perfect, is a wonderful action film with a lot of franchise potential.
Hopefully, viewers will be seeing a lot more of Azumi in the years to come.