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Azumi
Japanese: あずみ

"I am so cute and adorable! Love me!"

Aya Ueto as Azumi

Availability:

DVD (JAPAN)
Region 2 NTSC
Toshiba Entertainment
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Japanese Subtitles
Various extras, trailers, featurettes
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video, Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

DVD (UK)
Region 2 PAL
Optimum Asia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track

Dolby Digital 5.1

Removable English Subtitles
Featurettes, Trailers

Find this at YesAsia.com

Year: 2004
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Writer: Isao Kiriyama, Rikiya Mizushima, based on the manga by Yu Koyama
Cast: Aya Ueto, Shun Oguri, Hiroki Narimiya, Kenji Kohashi, Takatoshi Kaneko, Yuma Ishigaki, Yasutaka Sano, Shinji Suzuki, Kazuki Kitamura, Kenichi Endo, Kazuya Shimizu, Ryo, Yoshio Harada, Masato Ibu, Minoru Matsumoto, Jo Odagiri, Aya Okamoto, Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Naoto Takenaka
The Skinny: Interesting, watchable period swordplay flick which entertains despite being rather superficial and emotionless. Director Ryuhei Kitamura pushes the expected cinematic buttons, but Azumi never truly leaps from the printed page.

Review
by Kozo:

It's Asian Cinema fanboy heaven: Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura helms Azumi, a Japanese manga adaptation which promises bloodshed and swordplay—and most of it dispensed by uber-cute popstar Aya Ueto. She plays the titular character, a neophyte assassin who's been training for years with her fellow neophyte assassins in the mountains. On the eve of their first assignment, they get a graduation exam from master Gessai (Yoshio Harada): kill your best friend. If you fail, you die. If you run, you will be hunted down and likely killed. As gripping intros go, Azumi's opening bit goes straight for the gut. Will the rest of Azumi be as subversive and darkly entertaining?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. While the film does throw a couple of moral curves at us, it settles into routine chambara plotting all too quickly. The band of assassins is charged with offing a trio of evil warlords (among them Naoto Takenaka of Waterboys and Shall We Dance?), but along the way they're not supposed to help the innocent and defenseless. Their goal is single-minded: take down these bastards and all the accompanying battlefield fodder that get thrown at them. When the assassins find some bandits raiding a village, they're instructed to hide and do nothing. This is their assigned lot, to ignore everything else but their missions, even if they find it abhorrent to do so. Those instructions doesn't totally sit well with some of the young assassins, particularly the fresh-scrubbed Azumi. Eventually, she's called upon to decide if this is truly the life for her.

Purportedly the fastest and most skilled of the bunch, Azumi is definitely the most adorable. With her full lips and pint-sized stature, she's popstar action hero personified. The deal has plusses and minuses; it's fun to watch such an adorable creature whup ass, but Aya Ueto makes Hong Kong's Twins look like established thespian talents. Ueto is called upon to display a full range of emotions: sadness, confusion, defiance, girlish modesty, and above all anger. She handles some of those emotions passably, but overall she's not all there. When Azumi gets supremely pissed, she looks like she's pouting over losing 100 yen at a UFO catcher machine. Basically, Ueto doesn't convince.

But hey, there's action. Those who tune in to Azumi likely came to check out the fake blood and slashing swords, and not a 21st century Akira Kurosawa film (and if anyone did tune in for that possiblity, they likely were disappointed to the point of murderous rage). Azumi delivers in the action department, though the sheer amount of downed foes and semi-cool posturing by the cast can get a little old. The action arrives at welcome intervals, but the most notable varation seems to be who the heroes (or heroine, as things go) will be carving up. A trio of uncouth killers, an honorable monkey-assassin (Minoru Matsumoto), and an effeminate psycho swordsman (Jo Odagiri) are among the comic book villains who show up to challenge Azumi, and all are amusing in their own quirky way.

What none of them are, however, is truly menacing. Azumi has a fine period look, some cool visuals, and enough action to satiate most fans, but it doesn't deliver a plot or characters that exist beyond a bare minimum. As such, those with high expectations might be disappointed, though the film is likely to qualify as passable entertainment for the masses. By the time Azumi is required to take on two hundred (yes, that's 200) foes in a single battle, most Asian action junkies will likely be happy just to be there. Sure, Aya Ueto never convinces as a truly skilled or even fast assassin, but the showers of fake blood and copious flying bodies will keep the kids glued to their seats.

Director Kitamura keeps things interesting despite a bloated 143-minute running time, an accomplishment that should earn him some credit. Still, Azumi ultimately feels lacking. The film is an attractive package that's certainly watchable, but it's missing that integral spark that would make it truly impressive or even exciting. The drama and emotion seem assumed by the script, and not demonstrated by anyone in the film. Everyone says their lines and hits their marks, and the camera moves with enough stylish energy to prevent boredom—and that's about it. More passion or impact would have been nice. Azumi may have style, but it's sadly lacking power. (Kozo 2004)

 
   
 
 
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