Hong Kong Cinema


  • Made: 2003
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 2 PAL
  • Release Date: 02 Aug 2004
  • Company: Optimum Asia
  • Length: 123 mins (cut by 20 mins)
  • Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Sound: Dolby 2.0
  • Language: Japanese with English Subtitles (burnt on)
  • Extras: Documentary, Making of, trailers
  • Classification: 18


Ryuhei Kitamura


Aya Ueto, Yoshio Harada, Tak Sakaguchi, Naoto Takenaka, Masato Ibu, Jo Adagiri, Hideo Sakaki, Aya Okamoto

Azumi is name of a deadly female ronin who has trained since young to become a deadly assassin in order to promote peace and prosperity. Played by the youthful Aya Ueto, Azumi successfully makes the translation from multi-million selling manga comic into epic samurai movie. Azumi had a reasonable run at the Japanese box office taking $6.7m during its summer release in 2003, but this was enough to convince producers to make a sequel which began filming in April 2004.


Priest Tenkai requests that Master Gessai trains assassins in order to combat bloodthirsty warlords that threaten the stability of their land. After many years of training in a secluded resort, Gessai decides that his troupe of assassins is ready for their mission. Before sending them to the outside world he gets his ten assassins to pair up together before telling them to kill their partners! In a similar vein to Battle Royale we see emotionally stunted youths butchering their own. Gessai reasons that only cold blooded indiscriminate murder can prepare his pupils for the life of an assassin.

After half his assassins have killed off the other half, the remaining five enter the outside world for the first time. Their mission is to kill three warlords who threaten to incite war against the existing ruler. However, Master Gessai refuses to let his small army draw their swords unless it is directly linked to their mission. After watching a village and a group of travelling performers being ruthlessly murdered, this responsibility becomes too much for Azumi and Hyuga, who struggle to restrain themselves against such injustice and violence.

Further strife affects the group after realising they failed to kill the second warlord, Kiyomasa, but only killed his double. The warlord responds by releasing an ultra-deadly androgynous ronin, Bijomaru, from prison. After the death of Hyuga at the hands of Bijomaru (Jo Adagiri), Azumi decides to leave the world of violence behind her and leaves with the performer Yae to live life as a woman, not a warrior. As you might have guessed, this denial of her fate lasts only one day, before she realises she has no choice other than to follow her bloody destiny.


The two most significant ingredients of this film are the large-scale action sequences and the decidedly vibrant way in which Kitamura has filmed Azumi. The action was all taught on set, and led to a departure from the manga comic, as Azumi would kill all opponents with only one stroke. The choreographer Morokaji created demanding and authentic routines befitting of the deadly Azumi. After being badly wounded on the first day of action on set, Ueto returned to fight with continued vigour and did over 90% of her own action.

The action is both the film's strongest and weakest points. The battles are on an epic scale, with the final encounter being a two hundred versus one bloodbath! The action is full on samurai slaughter with the added spice of somersaulting ninjas and a few sticks of dynamite. Some of the scenes captured are hugely impressive with a variety of panning cameras and lighting effects used to give atmosphere to the scenes. The film also uses a revolving vertical camera to provide a superb 360 degree shot when Azumi finally encounters Bijomaru. Unfortunately the action suffers whenever the director resorts to CGI in preference to more traditional techniques. The action starts to look more like a video game, than a swordplay epic. This is a real shame as the action captured is exhilarating enough, and the implausible effects regularly detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie.



However, all is not lost, as Kitamura's trump card is the visual display he puts on show. The outstanding sequences are the combat in the dark where Master Gessai and two of his assassins are ambushed by General Kenbei. He manages to bring life and colour to what would normally be a gloomy and ambiguous action scene. The final encounter also boasts an exceptional set to host its two hundred and one combatants. Kitamura wanted to create something similar to Mad Max and a classic Western set, which is supported by splendid costumes for the mercenaries. The ultimate warrior, Bijomaru, is particularly distinctive, dressed all in white with an affection for carrying a red rose everywhere.



The Optimum Asia disc features a crisp widescreen print with particularly legible subtitles (although they are burnt on). This is supported by stylish on-disc graphics and two lengthy extras with a Making Of movie and a documentary. Both provide a fascinating further insight into the movie. Unfortunately the cardinal crime has been committed with this release of Azumi as the film is cut by 20 minutes from the original Japanese version. I keep on saying that I am pretty ambivalent to extras and much more interested in an uncut movie with decent audio / language options. It seems that Optimum Asia have tried to cram everything onto a single disc and foregone decent audio options (i.e. DD 5.1) and an extended director's cut. This is a real shame and will mean that most savvy fans will opt for a Japanese import instead.


Azumi will have a wide appeal especially being released so soon after the samurai inspired Kill Bill. It relies on the classic ideas of a warrior who cannot escape her own destiny, and the internal strife of the wandering ronin. The additional spice is added through a vibrant feel throughout the movie and a set of commendable performances by cast and crew. I have already mentioned my qualms over the CGI, but there is little else to criticise in this genuine attempt to thrill. I hope the lessons have been learnt for the sequel, but after seeing Azumi, I will be eagerly anticipating its release.