June 04, 2007

AZUMI 2 - DEATH OR LOVE (2005) with Chiaki Kuriyama

(2005, Japan)

Sequel has lots of fighting but less plot for the samurai heroine

Region 2 PAL DVD (Optimum Asia)

The first Azumi film was something of an epic. An epic story, epic finale, epic music, flashily directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Godzilla Final Wars, and the forthcoming Midnight Meat Train).

So, perhaps my expectations were rather high for the sequel. You don’t have to watch the first film to understand this one, there are enough flashbacks to see you through.

It opens well with a spirited clifftop swordfight with some seemingly indestructible warriors, but as the tale progresses a pattern emerged. An unending series of small-scale fights with gimmicky opponents, rather than with expert swordsmiths (like in the first film). In fact, in two of the film’s pivotal fights, her opponents haven’t yet demonstrated their sword skills – why should we think they stand a chance? In the first film, her main opponent is shown to be an expert swordsmen, and is therefore the greatest threat.

The numerous fights are more outlandish, even with a little magic (or impossibly advanced inventions) being used. More than a little House of the Flying Daggers, certainly in the FX work for the 'web-spinning' opponent. But I wasn’t excited by the fights, and noticed some speed-ups, not used for style, but because the action wasn’t fast enough in places. The director, Shusuke Kaneko, has made many effects-heavy movies before, notably the awesome Gamera trilogy, but his recent drama-heavy films, like the two Death Notes, have been similarly humourless.

Our heroes - Yuma Ishigaki, Aya Ueto and Chiaki Kuriyama

The main plus for me was a fairly big supporting role for Chiaki Kuriyama playing a na├»ve sidekick – she’s a good reason to watch, but she’s not as exceptional as her appearances usually are. They don’t really make the most of her character, but if it's blood you want - you got it!

So, non-stop action, not much story, a good-looking cast, lively fights and it’s good to see Azumi in action again. Maybe a third film will get it right?

The region 2 DVD also has a good, well-subtitled, documentary on it, with unpretentious interviews with the cast and crew.

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