Body count: 295+
Entertainment factor: 1/5
Eek factor: 0/5
Ooh factor: 1/5
Ouch factor: 2/5
Film Elements
  • gravity-defying martial arts
  • live-action anime
  • ninja
  • period
  • samurai
What happens when you turn a manga into a live-action? Sometimes you have brilliance, like Casshern, and sometimes you have Azumi. Over and over again, Azumi fails to deliver; instead, it props itself up on sheer body count.

Once upon a time, a little girl’s mother, her only parent, died. Luckily, she was taken in by a ninja master who also adopted a number of other little orphan boys, raising them to be fighters. (Plot hole: How in the world did a poor man in the mountains get enough money to obtain katana/wakizashi for all those kids?) They all become extraordinarily good at swordplay--better than most adults they will ever encounter, in fact. And of all ten little ninja, Azumi (the only girl) is (of course) one of the best.
The kids’ ninja training is almost complete. Only one thing remains: to make them truly steeled and heartless, they must pair off and kill each other. (Plot hole: Why waste all the time/money/energy raising that many kids when you wanted to off half of them to begin with?) The excuse? An assassin must be ready to kill anyone, even if he does not like his mission. Azumi seems to be the only one to find the situation problematic, but she still successfully offs Hanazawa Rui-–I mean, Nachi, the very boy who found her and brought her into the fold so very long ago.
With their ninja training complete, Azumi and company are ready to burn their house down and depart on an Important Mission to protect the rule of Tokugawa Ieyasu by assassinating various Toyotomi warlords. (Plot hole: The Tokugawa rule was not so very tenuous that it needed the help of a few children to keep it strong. No history points for Azumi.)
Enter Saru, who probably has something to do with Sun Wukong from Journey to the West. A bit later, after the kids slaughter several groups of guards, enter Bijomaru, the obligatory rose-toting prettyboy who isn’t really much of a beauty at all. (Plot hole: during the time period Azumi is set in, roses with more than five petals did not yet exist.) Apparently the group of teenagers is so powerful that it’s time to start letting the crazies out of jail again. Can the kids stand together against a monkey and a fruit loop? Since they’re the main characters, you know without watching the film that the answer has to be yes.
Azumi is, first and foremost, a live-action anime, and it painfully shows. In important fights, there is a significant gap between the time that the character gets cut, the time that the blood starts to flow, and the time that the severed body part falls off. Bijomaru continues to flail around several seconds after his head is off. It’s not cool; it’s not even funny; it just looks stupid. (And rarely do I outright call something stupid.) The plot doesn’t hold together well, suggesting that the filmmakers took a great deal of original development and squashed it into the length of one film. Many of the effects, such as blood on a blade catching fire, just aren’t believable. Enemy ninja flip into battle like Power Rangers. Actually, the sword-fights aren’t bad in that they attempt to draw upon actual sword techniques instead of looking as though they were…well, ripped straight out of a manga. Unfortunately, since so many other things do look like they were ripped straight out of a manga, it just fuels the movie’s inconsistency.
As a character, Azumi just isn’t all that believable. She has no personality. She’s grim and stoic most of the time, yet she goes ga-ga over kimono and capes. (Plot hole: Azumi is supposed to be an excellent fighter. Any good fighter knows that a cape will just get in her way.) The film attempts to set up a contrast between normal Azumi and Azumi-in-a-kimono-suggesting that she is not very feminine, but is capable of being a real girl after all--but Azumi’s periwinkle ninja getup and failure to behave differently in a kimono imply that her personality (or lack thereof) aren’t even skin-deep.
Bijomaru must have been a prettyboy in the original Azumi manga, but here he’s just strange. His paleness is not the white of theatre makeup (despite the red eyeshadow) nor the elegant paleness of the nobility (as would be suggested by his fine sword and long hair), but the paleness of someone who is wearing baby powder on his face. “You have a beautiful face. How much is your arse?” asks one hooligan, following up with a lengthy crotch-fondle. Bijomaru…erm…calmly takes it like a man, placing his rose in the hooligan’s teeth, then whacking off the friendly hand. (Stumpy forgets his lack of limb and gushing arteries when he spies gold coins a few moments later.) Whatever dignity the character may have managed to retain to the end of the film is ruined by his jumping up and down, squealing, giggling, and general outlandish behaviour. You have to hand it to Odagiri Jou--he may have been given crap for a script to work with, but he performs his character consistently. (And likely had a lot of fun playing someone so loopy.)
There’s nothing suspenseful or creepy about Azumi at all, unless you count Bijomaru’s complete and utter lack of masculinity. Since the villains don’t really coalesce (congeal is more like it) into a whole unit, it’s hard to tell exactly where the plot is feebly staggering off. About halfway through, my brain simply shut down completely; I finished the remainder of the film staring dully at Bijomaru’s mole.

If Azumi has any redeeming qualities, the music may be one of them. Drawing on traditional instruments and electric guitars, it can be quite pretty or downright cool in places. I would buy the soundtrack. Unfortunately, even Beethoven couldn’t write a soundtrack good enough to overcome the rest of Azumi’s problems.

Unless you feel that Azumi is hot and you would like to ogle her, the purchase of this movie is a waste of your money. It is best rented with a group of friends, with alcohol, while making fun of it at every opportunity you find.