Japanese Samurai classic film
Was edited by a half hour for it's international release. Orphaned as a little girl, Azumi (Aya Ueto) is raised in the forest with a group of ten children by their master (Yoshio Harada), who trains … see full wiki
AZUMI (2003) is based on the manga (Japanese comic) which was a massive hit in Japan. Remember that gut-feeling that tickles you in a delightful way when you are watching a film that is really enjoyable and entertaining? AZUMI delivers that feeling; Director Ryuhei Kitamura (Aragami, Versus) is the right man for the job in this JIDAI GEKI swordplay spectacle. Kitamura has given a very delightful movie watching experience that I ended up with owning both the 128 minute theatrical release and the very expensive (region-2) 143 extended director's cut. I followed the series up to AZUMI 2 in 2005.
In 19th century war-torn feudal Japan, a master samurai (Yoshio Harada) takes on the task of raising ten orphans and training them to be assassins. Their ruthless purpose: to do the bloody work of the state by silencing rebellious warlords. After a decade of inconceivably harsh training and discipline, Azumi (Beautiful Aya Ueto) and her comrades are ordered to assassinate the powerful warlords Nagamasa Asano and Kiyomasa Kato. But burdened with a cruel assignment that means killing friends and enemies alike, Azumi begins to question herself, her master's--and her country's--objectives. Still, Azumi remains determined to see her mission through to the bloody end.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to read the manga so I cannot disclose the accuracy of the film from its source material. What I can tell you is that AZUMI has become one of my favorite Asian films. The film is truly amazing; from the beginning of the film up to its climactic climax. The film boasts one of the most amazing camera work I've ever been privy to (I don't want to spoil this). Tarantino would have done well consulting Kitamura when he made Kill Bill. Azumi can be called the epitome of the ultimate "girl next door who can kick @$$". Every character has their opportunity to shine, with Kitamura's excellent direction; the man definitely knows how to utilize his casts' strengths and avoid their weaknesses.
AZUMI's strengths lie in its excellent swordplay choreography. Some people may argue that the slicing and dicing may get repetitive but the film is a fighting melee. Footwork is done very well with the sword-swinging that every shot looks like it is poetry in motion. Again, Kitamura is to be praised that he manages to make 19-year old (at the time of production) Aya Ueto a convincing female assassin. It was like Ueto is so refreshingly pretty to look at until she holds her katana, that transforms her into a cold, accurate assassin. As I've mentioned that the action sequences is Azumi's main draw. Highlights include the killer 3rd act sequence where Azumi takes on 200+ samurai foot soldiers and mercenaries and the very creative duel with Bijomaru with the gruesome climax that features one of the most memorable beheadings ever shot on film. The swordplay action in Azumi gets an "A" for its jaw-dropping choreography.
The film isn't your typical chambara period film, the hyper-kinetic action sequences and the music sounds like a cross-breed between Japanese traditional music mixed in with techno and rock and roll. Even Azumi's colorful attire and the Sajiki Brothers' armor to Bijomaru's outfit seem to have the anime-manga infuence. People who are looking for the traditional chambara film will be better off watching Zatoichi or "Lone Wolf and Cub" instead. Who cares? The film still managed to impress the heck out of me.
While close to perfect, the film does have its weaknesses. Some of the supporting characters in the film need acting lessons. Thankfully, Yoshio Harada takes most of the burden; he plays the older sensei with convincing charisma that is both powerful and very effective. Jo Odagiri (Shinobi Heart Under Blade) plays the eccentric and creepy swordsman with a rose. Odagiri is like a chameleon, this actor morphs into the role he plays and is barely recognizable. Same with Tak Sakaguchi (Versus) who makes a brief appearance. People may also argue that the extended cut played a bit too long for an action film but I rather thought the added footages complement the samurai ideals regarding loyalty, duty and honor.
The print of the Japanese/Korean version is a bit superior to the U.S. release. The color palette leans towards earth colors.
The Differences between the 142 minute director's cut and the 128 theatrical cut are:
1) First encounter with Kanbei. The extended fight scene was edited down. It is missing the significant scene wherein Kanbei observes Azumi in action, he sees her superior skill in combat. Explains in a way how he became obsessed and a little intimidated with Azumi.
2) Some scenes overlap to the next scene. Dialogue gets carried over to the next.
3)The scene(memory) with Nachi and her friends; this scene strengthens her resolve to complete the mission.
4) The Japanese version is bloodier than the U.S version with most action sequences noticeably extended.
AZUMI is a triumphant blend of awesome swordplay-action, humor and raw emotion that may well be Ryuhei Kitamura's crowning achievement. Think about it, the man manages to pull off the terrific "ARAGAMI" in 7 days as part of the Duel challenge project against 2LDK and the almost no-budget cult hit "Versus". Imagine the man directing a film with a larger budget such as AZUMI. Ryuhei Kitamura is poised to become one of Japan's prominent International directors. Azumi is PURE fun and enjoyment; Kitamura has given his fans more than 2 hours of great film-making!
Note: The Japanese region-2 version is the one to get! It has 20 minutes more footage of extended fight scenes and character depth.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION! [4 ½ Stars]
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