Set in war torn Japan hundreds of years ago, Azumi is basically a young girl with extraordinary sword skills who is part of a small team of elite assassins whose job is specifically to kill off warlords who intend to start wars in Japan.
Her and her team are lead by an older man, while her team mates are all young (late teens) and are still discovering the world around them. Their mission, to assassinate a local warlord, seems to be going quite well when they accidentally assassinate his double. That’s when things get complicated and as some of the team start to die, the group splits up before being hunted by a very deadly and skilled swordsman named Bijomaru.
Eventually what remains of her team is captured or killed, Azumi, who was starting a simpler life, is forced to go back and rescue them. This leads to massive battle between her and a large group of men before facing off with Bijomaru.
Some very interesting characters.
Azumi herself is introduced as a small child looking over her mother’s corpse.
When a man and some young boys pass by, they take Azumi with them and she becomes a member of their team. This team is to train elite warriors from a very young age and while most of them are boys, there is only one girl – Azumi.
What really makes this film interesting in the beginning is when they all finally finish their training. Their master, Hessai, tells them that they must learn to kill without question or attachment. He then instruct all of them to pick a partner who they like the most. When all of them happily find their best friend and partner up, I’ll never forget Gessai’s instruction:
“Slay your partner”
Gessai then walks off into his hut leaving these kids to process what they were just told. Eventually they start with the first being killed very suddenly before they all break off and fight to the death. Azumi and her partner Nachi are considered the best and most skilled of the lot. Azumi is finally attacked by Nachi and kills him in one swift strike.
This whole scenario sets a mood for the movie and gives you some interesting insight into all of the characters.
From there some of the kids accept their approach to life, while some others fight it – this causes a little stress between them and their mission before finally breaking up. But when the assassin Bijomaru appears, they all find themselves a target.
Bijomaru is another intriguing character. He’s a master swordsman with skill so great he has never had to defend from a strike – hence his sword has no guard.
It’s not until Bijomaru fights Azumi that he is forced to defend for the first time, and is overjoyed by the challenge. He loves to watch people die slowly, and is severely psychotic. But despite his skill and psychotic personality he does have a very contrasting elements to his character – he always carries around a rose and is actually extremely effeminate. He’s makes for a very interesting and strange villian.
As the movie unfolds there are lots of fights and a pretty standard story line – it’s the characters that make this movie standout and it supports the action well.
The Action & Martial Arts
This movie is bloody, full of sword work and adventure that carries an exciting pace with decent fight scenes.
The swordwork is performed very well and is fast and powerful without being too fast and vicious, and there are a few CGI bits and pieces thrown into the mix. The star of the action is obviously the swordwork which relies less on impressive stuntwork and more on technical training of the actors combined with flashes of CG scenery and blood splatter.
Since you can’t go chopping up actors with swords in front of the camera, this movie slightly overdoes the ‘cut away’ sword strikes – where the initial movement of a strike is shown, but then the characters face is cut to during the strike – showing not the incision but the blood and look on the face of those being killed. This technique does work well but was done just a few too many times for my liking – but most people wouldn’t even notice.
Decent action and interesting characters make this movie fun to watch.
The visual style of the movie really tops it off and Aya Ueto does an awesome job playing Azumi – she is both gorgeous and convincingly vicious in the combat scenes. This is without a doubt a recent Japanese classic (2003!) and I recommend it to anyone as a fun watch.
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
Azumi on DVD