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Review Azumi (2003): Top notch action in live action manga!

genre: action, adventure, martial arts

Azumi is a live action manga about a female assassin set out on a mission to kill three allies of Toyotomi Hideyoshi to prevent an outbreak of the new civil war. Azumi and her comrades have rained their whole life to carry out this important mission but soon find out it's much harder than they thought when the moment is there.

Their master and foster father Gessai (Yoshio Harada) who is tasked by the Tokugawa shogunate to raise a band of assassins seems like a good man who has taken good care of the kids. However when the mission is upon them he shows a side to them that these kids never had seen before. He tells them that only half of the ten students have what it takes to become a cold blooded assassin and then orders them to pair up with their best friend and then kill each other. The students are obviously shaken up by this but they do as ordered and 5 students are left. Master Gessai doesn't waste a second and leaves with the 5 remaining students to start their mission.  In a village where a gang of bandits are raping and killing people Azumi and comrades are prevented from interfering since they would call unnecessary attention to themselves.  They obey under heavy protest but more and more begin to doubt whether they are on the right path or not.

After some battles Azumi and her comrades get sidetracked by a group of circus performers and Azumi learns from one of them what it feels like to be a real girl. Yae (Aya Okamoto) tries to persuade her to leave the life she is living and join her. Azumi is tempted but then gets confronted with the harsh reality of life and her own desires. She lives by the sword and will die by it. When this sub plot occurs you do have to be patient since it slows down the film considerably. Not that it's boring. It actually is compelling enough if not for the fact that it completely detracts from the urgency of the mission she was put on. Once she comes to realize what her life goals are the battle is on. It's rather beautiful to see Azumi fight so many men and defeating them so easily. Like always most men underestimate her and she adequately punishes them for their ignorance. The final battle is between her and Bijomaru Mogami who probably is gay. Or deliberately is trying to make people think he is so that perhaps they might be caught off guard. Who knows? It doesn't really matter. He is quite vicious and is only there to serve as an obstacle to Azumi.

The film does end on a cliffhanger as their mission is far from over. But you will get an ending that is satisfying enough but at the same time makes you look forward of what to come. Basically how cliffhangers should be. Azumi is a blast from begin to end with a slight slow down in the middle but it's never boring. If you are craving samurai and ninja goodness then you definitely need to check this out.

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