Thanks for the warning, fellas. AZUMI 2 is no AZUMI. I had known director Shusuke Kaneko as being good at giant monster and horror type pictures, and I really thought his cleverness and style would apply well to our little badass raised in the mountains to be the ninja assassin orphan girl with the purple cape. But maybe with this one he caught a tough break. Either the budget was much lower or they just didn’t know how to use it as well as Kitamura did. Lots of standard woods and dirt, looking cinematic than ’90s syndicated TV show. Like Xena or something.
I didn’t really mind that (spoiler? unspoiler?) negotiations prevent us from having a huge climactic massacre like in the first one. That part feels kinda ballsy, I can respect that. It’s progress for the character and her story instead of just more of the same. What was disappointing was that the first one had that incredible village set that was so integrated with (and wrecked by) the battle. This one is just in an ugly clearing. She could’ve killed 700 people, it still would’ve seemed like a step down.
Also the movie lacks the momentum I want in a movie like this. We already got her origin story in part 1, we should be off and running like BLADE II. Instead we spend alot more time with her contemplating peace than in the first one, and not in a cool way like when you or I contemplate peace. She gets guilted by women who take care of war orphans and aren’t buying her argument that her killing stops wars, and she doesn’t bother to tell them “I am one of those war orphans, you think you care more about this than I do?” Also there’s a long section where her and the other survivor of her clan are stupidly played by a chipper young ninja girl who they think they’re taking under their wing. I really think they shoulda been able to figure that one out.
The story has them sent by the priest to kill the final warlord on their list. They end up teaming with a group of raggedy fur-wearing bandits because one of them looks exactly like Nachi, Azumi’s childhood best friend who she had to murder as her initiation. At least they don’t say it’s Nachi, but it’s still kind of a corny gimmick.
Once again a bunch of colorful villains get sent to kill Azumi. None hold a candle to the rose-carrying effeminate psycho or the monkey ninja from part 1, but these ones are kinda cool. One guy called Tsuchigumo (Taku Sakaguchi, who I guess plays a different character in the first movie) has eyes on his helmet and a spider theme. I noticed some weird armor conventions, including nipples. The BATMAN AND ROBIN influence is world wide, I guess. The female leader of the ninja clan, Lady Kunyo, has a chain connecting one armor nipple to the other.
And there’s a guy that has a big belly built into his. Wasn’t gonna try to hold his gut in like a phony, I guess.
I like that all the ninjas have their own extravagant bladed weapons. The best one is this guy Roppa’s double-headed spear that he throws as a boomerang. It roars around, chopping up both trees and people, always returning to his hand. The spider-beastie guy has daggers that – CHA-CHUNK – pop out of his wrists.
My favorite scene in the movie is when he’s commanded to use “the poisoned spider web,” which means he shoots razor sharp cables all through the trees creating an impossible tangle that we know – but Azumi doesn’t – will paralyze her if it cuts her. It’s a cool gimmick and created real tension because I didn’t want Azumi to get paralyzed but also I worried about the ninja himself. He’d only suggested catching her in “the cobweb” before Lady Kunyo upgraded to poison. And he seems so human when, in agreeing to follow the command, he asks to be killed if he gets paralyzed. (MILLION DOLLAR BABY was based on the same comic I believe.)
It’s a really cool fight, very exaggerated with so many wires to dodge and bounce on top of, and leaves falling from above and slicing on them. But it seems to cheat on both possible dramatic outcomes. The movie doesn’t deal with what would happen if the ninja had to be put out of its misery, and Azumi does get cut, but she seems to get magically healed. Something to do with love, I believe.
Lady Kunyo seems like the craziest bitch in the movie, but I felt a little sorry for her too. That girl she sent undercover must’ve been sort of a daughter figure to her. She’s truly upset about Azumi killing members of her clan. On the other hand Lord Sanada says he only started the war for her. “I wanted you to be happy!” he says. So she’s got some pretty demanding fetishes. She’s not a great person in my opinion.
It was nice to see Azumi in action again, but it’s a shame they couldn’t give her better than this.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.