“Not quite up to the original, but a damn fine “stab”, hohoho.”
I went into this with low expectations, based on some scathing reviews and the lack of Ryuhei Kitamura, whose directorial style made the first such a joy. I’m pleased to report then, that this surpassed expectations, with some nice imagination and a bevy of action heroines (including Kuriyama, whom you’ll know as Gogo Yubari from Kill Bill, Volume 1), as well as the expected high body-count. It follows on loosely from the original, but heads in a slightly different direction; our heroine is still intent on her mission, but is diverted by a wandering samurai, part of a rogue gang, who reminds her of Nachi, her childhood friend she had to kill at the opening of the original film.
Meanwhile, her target has an entire set of ninjas at his beck and call, such as a spider-guy who weaves lethally sharp webs, and a man with a very sharp, double-ended spear (with boomerang capability!), all overseen by a woman whose armour has a chain dangling – for no apparent reason – between the nipples. [This was written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who gave us the anime Ninja Scroll, and much of the same sensibility towards extreme violence is on view here, although the chain is the sole nod to that one’s, ahem, interesting view of female sexuality] All of whom must, naturally, face Azumi, before the inevitable finale in which our heroine takes on an entire army, then go one-on-one with its leader.
The action is probably the main area that isn’t quite up to par with the original; Ueto’s shortcomings aren’t as well-covered up, and while Kaneko is a competent director, he isn’t Kitamura – though who is? But this is also about half-an-hour shorter than the original, which had a lot more slack; that’s still somewhat of a problem here, though never for long, and the same bleak tone is apparent, with the final shot showing Azumi being followed by a literal, and apt, river of blood. I suspect any disappointment is largely because the first film was such a blast: when taken on almost any other terms (and, certainly, on its own merits), this is still a cut above (hohoho, once more!), and highly entertaining.
Dir: Shusuke Kaneko
Star: Aya Ueto, Yuma Ishigaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shun Oguri