Geisha Assassin (Japan 2008)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/31/20
Cast: Minami Tsukui, Shigeru Kanai, Nao Nagasawa

"Geisha Assassin" is a straight forward and single-minded tale of revenge, revolving around a young woman named Kotono Yamabe (Minami Tsukui) as she hunts down her father's killer. Her target is frustratingly elusive, and she has to fight her way through a dozen other foes that stand in her way before coming face-to-face with him. And that's when things become weird. It turns out that Kotono's father was the master of a cursed/forbidden fighting style, which he secretly taught his daughter. The master's disciples turned against him in order to banish his dark knowledge, not realizing that Kotono had already inherited it, and now they want to destroy Kotono as well. The bizarre epilogue offers no resolution or closure.

First of all, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the film. With a title like "Geisha Assassin," I expected it to be similar to the low budget erotic kunoichi exploitation films that were flooding the market at the time. However, there's no exploitation angle at all, and the film is completely devoid of sex, nudity, rape, and gore. Secondly, the fight scenes are remarkably good for a Japanaese production. The choreography is excellent and the performers are fast, precise, and hard-hitting. Minami Tsukui delivers an impressive physical performance and doesn't pull her punches. I'm surprised that her action career didn't take her further, and that she ended up settling into the sentai genre like so many other aspiring young action actresses. Lovely Nao Nagasawa shows up as a ninja early in the film, and even though she gets third billing, she sadly only has a couple minutes of screen time. Of course there's some artistic liberty taken in regards to the fighting styles of geisha, ninja, and samurai, but you shouldn't be watching a film like this if you're looking for cultural and historical accuracy.

Lastly, I was impressed by the production values and the moody cinematography. Shot mostly on location, the scenery is gorgeous and the lighting has a superb noirish quality, highlighted by harsh and deep shadows. It's sometimes frustrating to watch because there's so much darkness, but the film manages to maintain detail and texture throughout. The weakest aspect of the film is the story, which suffers from being too simplistic and overly convoluted at the same time. Within the first few minutes you realize it's just a straight-up revenge tale that offers little in terms of character development and plot advancement. While there's nothing wrong with that, the final reveal makes a mess of things and kills the film's momemtum. Another small criticism is that the effects makeup looks really bad in a few spots. Still, it's a great looking film for the most part, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fight scenes along with the intense fury that Minami Tsukui brought to the production.