on July 21, 2006 by Wade Major
Three years after it was made and more than two years after it was originally slated for a U.S. release, the Japanese swordplay adventure "Azumi" is finally getting a deserved, albeit limited, release. Not that distributor AsiaVision seems all that intent on making a killing in theatrical distribution -- DVD remains their bread and butter and, given the traditional distribution quandary for non-art house foreign-language fare, this looks to be a primarily token release to help bolster better disc sales in a month or two.

Based on a popular Manga comic, "Azumi" centers on the odyssey of its titular assassin (Aya Ueto), the lone female among a band of orphans raised to defend the ruling Shogun from the feudal warlords conspiring to overthrow him. Apart from the usual web of medieval intrigue, this is a fairly straightforward "mission" picture, with the band of young assassins steadily trimmed down as they encounter fierce and colorful opponents from the other side, eventually leaving only Azumi to deliver the final, fatal blow with all the girl power fury she can muster.

As with most Manga adaptations, "Azumi" mixes cartoonish and over-the-top action with the kind of unrelenting bloodletting fans of Japanese cinema have come to expect from swordplay flicks. American fans will find some similarity with another recent Manga adaptation, the futuristic "Princess Blade," though it could be argued that both films take their cues from the '70s-era "Lady Snowblood" series that first popularized the lethal combination of estrogen and forged steel. Ueto -- who was only a teenager when the film was made -- is no great actress, but her impressive agility and magnetic presence provide director Ryuhei Kitamura a perfect centerpiece around which to orchestrate his blistering ballet of blood. Starring Aya Ueto, Shun Oguri, Hiroki Narimiya, Kenji Kohashi, Takatoshi Kaneko, Yuma Ishigaki, Yoshio Harada, Hideo Sakaki and Masato Ibu. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Written by Rikiya Mizushima and Isao Kiriyama. Produced by Mataichiro Yamamoto and Toshiaki Nakazawa. An AsiaVision release. Action. Japanese-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 128 min

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