Azumi (2003)

Posted in Reviews by - June 07, 2020
Azumi (2003)

A spirited jidaigeki from Versus director Ryûhei Kitamura, adapted from a popular manga series. The story of a skilled female assassin slaying warlords during Japan’s turbulent Sengoku period may not be particularly original, but the film possesses a pulpy, acerbic, and sometimes strange style – complete with colourful superhuman characters, whizzing camera angles, and a contemporary soundtrack – which makes well-worn genre tropes feel quite different. Teenage pop singer, Aya Ueto – making her feature film debut – stars as the titular Azumi, an orphan trained from birth to be a badass killer by a twisted old master along with nine other would-be, all-male assassins. The master decides that it is time for the group to venture into the world to fulfil their destiny of killing some of Japan’s most notorious clan leaders. Their first test – as a way of strengthening their individual resolve – is to reduce their number from ten to five by turning on each other. As they venture into the world, they learn about an alternate lifestyle outside of killing: the boys discover girls and Azumi discovers her femininity, as well as starting to question the authority of her master. The coming-of-age elements to the story are fleeting but neatly observed, and add depth to the characters. The film is far more interested in action, and like Versus, there is a playful, cartoonish element to the over-the-top bloodshed which works rather well; there’s a monkey ninja complete with chimp noises who bounces off the walls, and a spooky, spectral assassin called Bijomaru (Joe Odagiri), who carries a red rose and seems to have jumped directly off the pages of a comic book. Plus, all the slicing and dicing should please any Japanese exploitation fan.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a laptop in London, UK.

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