Azumi (Japan 2003)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/20/04
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Aya Ueto

Imagine giving "Versus" (2000) director Ryuhei Kitamura a substantial budget to make a new wave period samurai film. The results are visually stunning, although Kitamura still needs to tighten up his pacing. The film revolves around a old samurai warrior who has raised ten orphans from childhood to be master assassins. Their goal is to ensure national peace by killing any warlords who wish to take over the country. The old master's sense of justice and morality seems a bit warped, though, as the common man often suffers from the group's actions (or inactions). Unfortunately, one of their targets proves to be very cunning, and soon the hunters become the hunted, leading to a massive sword swinging, blood spraying climax.

First of all, the cinematography is beautiful. The fight choreography is good, and Kitamura has a good eye for filming action. Unfortunately, he just doesn't know when to shut the camera off sometimes, and the film just takes its own sweet time to get where it wants to go. Female action fans will delight in Aya Ueto's portrayal of Azumi. She is tough and cold as ice. Her youthful beauty and vigor combined with a penetrating glare and a determined pout are sure to disarm any foe. She's lovely to watch and she handles her action scenes with strength, grace, and flair. Well done. The other actors do a fine job as well, and the old master lends an air of dignity and class to the production. The musical score is also superb. The majority of the film is played completely straight, but Kitamura still throws in a few bizarre characters and shows off his taste for the morbidly absurd. A very good film in all regards, although fans of "Versus" may not get what they were expecting.