Ryuhei Kitamura, Japan, 2003, 128 min.
Unlike Kitamura’s previous big hit, Versus, this film holds up well after the more than one viewing. Azumi is the story of a teenaged female assassin raised in the remote Japanese mountains during feudal times. Her and others like her are kept isolated from society, and trained by their master to be ready when called into action. They will eventually have to save the land from rampaging warlords by assassinating each before he becomes too powerful.
When that time comes, the students are pared down (in spectactular fashion) to the top five, and sent out into the world with a list of targets. The three warlords they must kill are interesting characters, and the various enemies the assassins meet along the way are fun and varied. And there are Ninjas! Azumi always manages to makes short work of them in awesome Kitamura style. Fun fun fun. The movie goes on like this for an hour and a half. And that’s a good thing.
Some sub-plots move the action in different directions, but eventually it all leads down to Azumi vs. the head war-lord. The effeminate, pristinely white, rose-carrying, master swordsman. He is so over-the-top that you can’t help but be entertained. In fact, that is a great way to describe the final battle. Azumi fights her way through hundreds of enemies to get to him, and the final confrontation takes place with some breathtaking sword and camera work.
No surprises here, but I didn’t care. Azumi is the type of film that gets you excited. That’s what Kitamura is good at and that’s why people watch his films. The type of films where people get blood splattered all over the face no matter what part of the body they are stabbed in. The type of films that are so over the top that you can’t help but laugh and smile even though you may be cringing at the dialog. The type of films that make the 15 year-old in us happy, and still let the adult appreciate giid film-making.
You can’t go wrong with Azumi, a film with a strong female character, ninjas, swords, spinning cameras, blood geysers, ninjas, Ryuhei Kitamura, swords, a feral ninja, acrobats, explosions, and of course, ninjas.