Azumi (2003) is a Japanese samurai/action film directed by Ryuhei Kitamura for Toho Studios. Written by Mataichiro Yamamoto (as Rikiya Mizushima) and Isao Kiriyama. Starring Aya Ueto as Azumi, Joe Odagiri, Aya Okamoto, Kenji Kohashi, Hiroki Narimiya, Takatoshi Kaneko, Yuma Ishigaki, Shun Oguri, Kazuki Kitamura, Naoto Takenaka, and Yoshio Harada. Based on the manga series by Yū Koyama. Distributed on DVD in North America by Urban Vision.
In 19th century war-torn feudal Japan, a master samurai takes on the task of raising ten orphans to be unstoppable assassins. Their mission: do the bloody work of the state by silencing troublesome warlords. After decades of inconceivably harsh training, Azumi and her comrades face the cruel assignment that means killing friends and enemies alike, and she begins to question her faith in her master and her devotion to her country. Still, Azumi remains determined to single-handedly complete her bloodbath mission.
Not rated. 128 minutes. Japanese language. Watch the trailer here …
Azumi is considered a “jidaigeki” (or “period drama”) film. However, it is really more like a “chanbara” (or “sword fight”) film. Chanbara, a sub-genre of jidaigeki, is more action oriented.
My thoughts… Azumi is my second favorite Ryuhei Kitamura film – behind Versus (2000) – but it’s my favorite Japanese “jidaigeki” [or “chanbara” if you prefer] film! Sure, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films [Seven Samurai (1954, Yojimbo (1961), etc.] are brilliant cinematic works and Kinji Fukasaku’s Legend of the Eight Samurai (1983) is insanely good ’80s fun, but Azumi is the one I’ve watched many times more than any other samurai/action film! Azumi is the strongest of a band of young assassins raised by a samurai master to eliminate three warlords [Nagamasa Asano, Kiyomasa Kato, Masayuki Sanada] who threaten the Tokugawa shogunate in feudal Japan. Her destiny becomes a mission of vengeance when her master is kidnapped by the notorious and narcissistic mercenary Bijomaru Mogami (Joe Odagiri). Azumi delivers over two hours of nearly non-stop, well-choreographed swordplay action! The epic climactic battle in which Azumi single-handedly takes on hundreds of mercenaries, samurai and ninja is explosive, bloody and breathtaking! I love, in that finale, when Azumi slices an arrow shot directly at her in half with her blade and those halves then strike men standing behind her on each side! I also love, in the opening, when Azumi is forced by her master to kill her best friend (and love interest) Nachi or to be killed by him in order to become a ruthless assassin! It’s a heartbreaking moment! Aya Ueto was deservedly nominated for Best Actress at the 2003 Japanese Academy Awards. She and Joe Odagiri won for Newcomer of the Year! I purchased Azumi on bootleg DVD back in 2004, then replaced it with Urban Vision’s two-disc collector’s edition in 2006. I did the same for Azumi 2: Death or Love! I also purchased the original soundtrack [featuring Azumi‘s theme song “Negai” by Mina Ganaha], Big Comic Superior’s making-of book, and the first volume of Yū Koyama’s manga series! The making-of book and the manga are in Japanese but I can’t even read (or speak) Japanese! The making-of book has lots of photos! Yeah, I love Azumi! Oh, and as cute as J-pop idol Aya Ueto is as Azumi, Aya Okamoto is just as adorable as traveling performer Yae! Her smile kills me! She was also featured in Ryuhei Kitamura’s supernatural action film Sky High (2003). Aya Ueto, by the way, has a beautiful smile, too!