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Azumi (Aya Ueto) belongs to a gang of assassins, trained in the mountains by
their master Gessai (Yoshio Harada), for some good cause he refuses to specify
upon. After years & years of training he promises to take them down
from the hills, to fullfill their mission - but first each of the gang has to
choose his/her favourite teammate & kill him/her, to prove himself
competent as a killer ... & Azumi has to kill her boyfriend Nachi (Shun
The gang (by now shrinked down to 5 assassins & their master)
later watches a massacre, but master Gessai forbids his students to intervene
to not endanger their mission. In Azumi, first doubts grow.
The mission of
our gan turns out to be to kill 3 mighty warlords, & the first is bumped
off without any problems, but the second warlord, Kiyomasa (Naoto Takenaka)
proves to be a different problem altogether. Not only is he guarded by a
bataillon of soldiers led by his trusted bodyguard Kanpei (Kazuki Kitamura)
& a group of ninjas who carry poisonous blades led by the monkey-like Saru
(Minoru Matsumoto), he is also wise enough to send a double in his stead, so
after a long fight in the course of which one of the assassins, Amagi
(Takatoshi Kaneko), gets poisoned, they end up one man short, without a mission
accomplished, & their cover is blown.
Saru then decides to send some
killers after our assassins, who are of course readily killed by Azumi &
gang, but not before they have killed off a wandering circus, all but performer
Yae (Aya Okamoto), whom one of our assassins, Hyuga (Kenji Kohashi) is madly in
love with ...
However, when Hyuga & Azumi show compassion towards both
Yae & the dieing Agami, they reach nothing but being fired from their
killing duties by Gessai, who decides to go after Lord Kiyomasa with only his 2
remaining students, the loyal Ukiha (Hiroki Narimiya) & the klutzy Nagara
Hyuga meanwhile takes off with Yae, but soon meets his match
(& death) in the most sadistic killer Bijomaru (Jo Odagiri), whom Saru has
freed from lifelong imprisonment just to slay master Gessai & his gang of
Yae then tries to hook up with Azumi & to dissuade her from
her lethal ways, but after the 2 women are almost raped, Azumi realizes that
there is no way for her but the way of the sword.
Kiyomasa meanwhile has made
it to the coastal city Gamba, to outrun his assassins at sea, but master Gessai
& his 2 students soon attack the village ... but get into an ambush, &
while Nagara somehow makes it off, Ukiha is killed & Gessai imprisoned.
Azumi enters Gamba too, & causes much chaos & destruction, that somehow
even turns the inhabitants of Gamba against Kiyomasa's samurais & they
start killing each other, much to the enjoyment of Bijomaru, who joins in the
killing, slaying friend & foe alike, until of the whole village only he
& Azumi are left alive, & they have their final fierce battle ... which
Azumi wins, finally bringing a death to Bijomaru he has brought to so many
But what about Lord Kiyomasa ?
He has made it out onto the open
see & believes himself in safety, when out of the blue (as in blue water),
Azumi appears & slays him for good.
& back in Gamba she even finds
Nagara, who apparently was too klutzy to get killed, & they agree to go on
& slay the third worlord on their list ...
On the surface, Azumi
may seem like an ordinary (if very well-made) samurai movie, with plenty of
bloodletting & hyperkinetic action. What makes Azumi outstanding
though is its refusal to give its main character any real justification for her
deeds (as she herself is doubtful of their righteousness), but without on the
other hand simply condemning them. The distinction beween good & bad is
more than ambivalent here, as the story (purpously) refuses to give the
audienceany backgrounds about the assassins' victims & the decisions of
their master are put into doubt more than once.
However, strong visuals &
breathtaking fightscenes make this not amere philosophical discourse about good
& evil, but an entertaining and thoughtful piece of action cinema.