Azumi is a japanese movie based on some manga (japanese comic book) that I admit I didn't read, but that doesn't really matter since it's pointless in my opinion to judge a film based on what it was inspired from -- yes it may or may not be similar, but it is different, and can be in a good way. It is set in the historical era of feudal Japan, so expect some cool sword fighting and bad-assery in this movie. The fact that it is inspired from a manga should come as no surprise given the (albeit in a cool way) anime-like point of the movie, with all sorts of swings and... you know, cool moves, one-man army, the usual stuff.
Anyway, the movie is about a samurai master who was supposed to train some assassins as kids to prepare them for a very tough mission. Their mission is to kill various warlords that are going to wreak havoc on Japan by acts of war. While this sounds like a noble goal, I find it a bit unbelievable, but then again since it's supposed to be inspired from a manga that isn't so bad (and most certainly this is an excellent movie if you are into bad-ass action, coupled with a cute protagonist, and could care less about reality more or less).
The point in their mission was to prevent the war, assuming no one actually takes the warlords' place. Anyway, Azumi is one of the ten children raised up for that purpose -- she actually lost her mother probably to bandits so she is technically an orphan and this is her familiy, fact that applies to every other of the assassins though.
Spoiler: I really could not understand why he had to order them to kill their friends... as it shows, it makes them as heartless as a rock like an assassin should be, but they're still humans; and after all, ten are better than five seriously. Yes I am aware that such a big group of ten would cause attention, but they could go on separate tasks -- separate warlords for instance, and be done with it much easier.
I'm not gonna spoil this blatantly like this any longer, but let's just say that the events are somewhat interesting. There's enough action to keep you focused and not bored. But don't worry though, the non-action scenes will either make you see the development of the characters, their doubts about their mission and cruelty, or just Aya Ueto. In this respect Azumi movie has a bit of philosophical questions inside too, and on second thought, I think it's significant to it.
Yes there's Ninjas in this movie, one also with a weird monkey-hat or something I couldn't figure out why... (might give a bad taste of comedy) but most of them aren't really the superninjas American Ninja has led you to believe, which I find somewhat good since it would be a *bit* more accurate. The last villain gave me the impression of a psycho to be honest -- with makeup getting all excited about blood and kills and stuff like that. Though some of his quotes are actually quite memorable especially when confronting Azumi.
Azumi is played by Aya Ueto. You may think what does such a cute girl have to do in an assassin movie, and I would say, it's one of the reasons you would actually like this, and not just for finding cute, but seeing her kick ass and in really good style, with awesome camera work, and the acting is well done too (she doesn't look very innocent mind you). She does have remorse however, but it is obvious they did a great job at making Aya able to be "more stoic" than she usually is, because it adds much more realism to the movie, which makes it just enough quantity to make it believable and awesome.
The camera work is brilliant. Ryuhei Kitamura really knows how to film a bad-ass, and I do mean it. I didn't find Versus that good, except for the fight scenes obviously (still 100% action isn't my style), but Kitamura really does it well, especially in fight scenes. You will notice the occassional glitch that could've been avoided if they had a bit more budget (especially in the big fights), but overall, most battles are *massive*. Actually it has so many kills, and mind you, not mass-destruction kills, unless you count Azumi as a mass-destruction weapon, you will probably lost count if you don't pay attention.
Azumi isn't just an assassion, she certainly isn't sneaky, and she can turn mad -- the whole movie has great acting, and not just Aya mind you. I couldn't find many glitches, heck even if I tried -- and actually I did try. She does have occassional cool "swings" of her sword which make her look badass (in reality though, they would probably be pointless) and I like the fact that Kitamura knows something about fighting positions and how to hold your sword when charging -- behind, not in front, for initial thrusting force. This adds again, a bit more realism to the movie, and it does show that the assassins could be professionals or highly skilled.
There's also the blood. Man this movie doesn't go easy on it. Blood is everywhere, because killings are usually everywhere. No, there's no silly gore or bloodsplash or splatter or anything like in horror gorefests, and thank goodness for that, it would have made it a bit more pathetic in my opinion -- and certainly is NO comedy. If I scared you, don't worry, it's not THAT much around although it is pretty... ehm let me say, continuous?
The music. The music is really good, the orchestral parts are emotional, and the rock-blend is welcome (electric guitar in rock-style), especially in fights. Even though sometimes it gets boring with a somewhat repetitive riff, the rock-mix does handle a feeling of bad-assery to Azumi, so I would say it is welcome addition to the usual orchestral soundtracks you would expect. Actually I really like the music in Azumi, so much that I even got the soundtrack. There are very sad and 'nostalgia' parts as well as bad-ass action parts, which really fits the mood of the movie perfectly. Could be better, but it is really a good blend for the movie, and fits the scenes very well.
So what does it lack? Well a lot of things of course, but that shouldn't prevent you from enjoying it. The worst thing is probably the simple plot, even though the action should keep you at bay for becoming bored or something. There's nothing much to the plot except for very small twists, but overall you know what to expect from the story. (and it is also a bit 'expected' so to speak). It also would have gone better with a slightly higher budget, but then again, I find this of much more quality than the common Hollywood action flick.
Oh and one last thing: people will die in this movie. Lots of them. And I am not talking only about random collateral damage. I'm talking about main and secondary characters... ok enough spoilers. So don't expect this to have a really happy ending though, actually it also leaves room for a sequel (which I may review later, tho it wasn't as good as this one, but that seems to be the norm these days).
BTW the english dubbing sucks, I was fortunate to listen to original with subtitles. It's much better. Why do Americans always have to do comedy-like dubbing? seriously, do they attempt to ridicule asian movies or something?
The movie has bad-ass assassins, Azumi being also cute but really playing her part well without looking innocent at all, ninjas getting slaughtered, an ENTIRE town getting slaughtered by a One-Man, or rather, One-Woman Army, lots of kills, both collateral damage and on characters, not many plot twists, arrows getting slashed, ninja with a weird monkey-hat, and brilliant camera work. Also sad moments, few "what the ..." moments, and an awesome one-on-one last fight against two skilled characters. Did I mention lots of kills?
Don't expect much from the plot though. Overall I give it 4.4 just cause it was so entertaining to my taste.