AZUMI 2 (2005-JAPAN)
review by Seraph

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A quality sequel that continues the story...
Shusuke Kaneko takes the helm of the Azumi franchise and turns in a darker, more character focused adventure than Kitamura's first over the top epic. Some returning faces and 'Battle Royale Psycho' Chiaki Kuriyama help add a little spice to the mix and Aya Ueto truly steps into her role as the titular Azumi. Those expecting a repeat of the first film may feel a little under whelmed. Those wanting to see an interesting conclusion to the events of Azumi however will come away with that and a whole lot more!

Picking up almost directly after Part 1, Azumi 2: Death or Love begins with Azumi (Pop star Aya Ueto) and her only remaining comrade Nagara, being hunted by a gang of vicious Ninja. Stopping for breath, Azumi asks Nagara why so many would be hunting them. His almost deadpan reply is that with all the people they themselves had killed previously, there would likely be twice as many hunting them for revenge. This small scene sets up what director Kaneko is trying to do with this film immediately. Many sequels treat themselves as single, bigger and better films. Certainly, Asian 'franchise' films often have very little to do with one another. Twins effects 1 and 2 for example have absolutely no relation (bar title) to each other in content. Azumi 2 does not fall into that trap. Events from the first film are mentioned/remembered and indeed penance is paid for the things our remaining heroes did in Azumi. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to sit down, pick up where we left off and watch our tiny heroine deal with everything.

Azumi's struggle with her calling as an assassin, which she began to question with the help of Yae (Aya Okamoto) in the first film, is further tested when she meets by chance a person who resembles her dead lover Nachi. Instant attraction leads to her making close ties with him and his village, and to her choice between honoring her dead friends and continuing her mission to rid Japan of the vicious warlords (the Death of the title) or to starting a new life with 'guy' and putting up her sword (the Love). Before any of that however, she must deal with a threat even closer to home in the shape of back stabbing ninja girl Kozue (Chiaki Kuriyama).

Of course, this all leads to betrayal, heart ache, one on one battles, one on 10 battles, one on 100 battles, entire buildings being demolished, fights with weird and wonderful ninja assassins. All the things that made the original Azumi so memorable are here but what Kaneko adds to the mix is real heart, danger and a sense that this will not end all too well for out tiny heroine. The action scenes are shorter and sharper this time around. Probably more realistic and though CGI is used a few times it never gets in the way of the story. One great fight sees Azumi fight against a ninja called Earth Spider (Tak Sakaguchi) who can shoot webs from his wrists ‘spider-man style’. They fight in and around a bamboo forest swinging and dodging each other’s attacks. It’s a well-designed scene, which better illustrates Azumi’s comic book heritage than previously seen. Also worthy of mention is the finale where once again, Azumi fights against near 100 people.

Of the cast both Aya Ueto and Chiaki Kuriyama both acquit themselves admirably. Miss Ueto has made the role of Azumi her own now and has developed as an actress since last time. As her nemesis, Chiaki Kuriyama exudes the same sweet innocence as she has in previous roles. This of course is before she slowly trades it in for her psycho girl persona. Hey, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Their friendship/rivalry adds just another great element to the film.

Shusuke Kaneko was the right guy for the job here. Sure, it is just a silly, harmless comic book inspired film and some people may be disappointed at the budget (It cost around half as much as the first to make) but it was definitely made up for with a sharper (and much shorter for all those who found the first to be too long) script, Well defined characters and a sense of conclusion from the first part. I think this is a big step for Franchise films outside of the west and here’s hoping that part 3 will be along shortly.

I rate it 8/10

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Genre: Action Romance Drama
Director: Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Cast: Aya Ueto, Chiaki Kuriyama, Ai maeda
Reviewed by Seraph (PaulJ), September 2005