Ryuhei Kitamura - it's a name that I pay big attention to. When I saw Versus I simply couldn't believe it, a hugely stylised martial arts action based low budget movie featuring zombies and high levels of gore. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven but sadly no, my addled frame was somehow still in existence. I'd merely discovered Japan's most exciting, visually based director instead.
When I discovered that Kitamura had another film now available on dvd I rushed out to the big city to recieve a copy (not many directors I'll do that for I can tell ya). Sadly the region 2 release contains the international version only which runs at just over two hours whereas the Japanese release runs for an additional 20 minutes. Not all is lost since not only have I ordered the region 3 release earlier today (which contains dts sound and English subs) but from what I understand the extras on that region 3 release are not subtitled, meaning that this region 2 is a perfect compliment disc for that reason alone. As far as I'm aware, Azumi and Versus are his only two films available for purchase so far? A shame.
Kitamura's Azumi is an epic adaption of a Japanese manga character and stars the beautiful Aya Ueto as the deadly female assassin. At first, I was concerned by the seemingly too glossy look of the picture but it actually suits the subject manner and characters (who can jump and leap Crouching Dragon style) perfectly. The director pulls out all of his tricks on this one - slow mo and high speed photography, stunning pan arounds during a duel (this time vertically!!), crane usage, some highly original use of cgi and the usual stunning visuals all grabbing the attention of your eyes. Not to mention a fascinating classical/electric guitar soundtrack and the brilliant use of complete and utter silence during some sequences also making a large impact.
Make no mistake about it, Azumi is the most action packed sword fighting film that I have EVER seen, it just doesn't seem to relent throughout. Despite an overly sugarly sweet first 15 minutes (which really did have me worried), it soon kicks in with numerous stunning fantasy action sequences. The plot is fairly simplistic as we watch Azumi and several others on their crusade to assassinate the dangerous warlords of Japan in order to avert the high deathcount from needless conflicts. The film doesn't show all of the warlords on the list meeting their ends so the path is left open for a probable sequel. Something which Kitamura will probably deliver after his forthcoming Godzilla (!!) and Versus 2 movies.
This region 2 disc carries a pleasingly solid 1,85:1 anamorphic print with strong vibrant colours and burnt in English subs but the sound is a disappointing 2.0 Dolby only. As already mentioned, this is the two hour international cut, the Japanese release runs for much longer. I've got this personal rule with extras, if they run for at least the same time as the film itself, they deserve full marks. I've only had the chance to watch the first 15 minutes of one of the disc's featurettes but it looked fascinating, I even got to see Aya Ueto in tears after being hurt in an accident on her first day of filming. Optimum Asia's disc features:
- Fighting On The Edge (41 mins)
- Battle On The Wild Side (85 mins)
- Trailers and tv spots
A generous and perfectly decent region 2 release from Optimum Asia, it's just a great pity that it doesn't feature surround sound and the longer cut of Kitamura's film. Still a recommended release although the smart money probably says to go for the region 3 release instead. I don't think that this film is even available on dvd in the US at the time of writing this review? This is a film that every fan of violent fantasy sword fighting flicks and the incredible (and much loved) Versus needs to own in their film collection. Ryuhei Kitamura is a fucking god amongst modern day directors!!! More dvd releases please....
A Footnote from B$B:
Well, that'll teach me to take internet "facts" at face value. The region 3 release of Azumi contains exactly the same cut as the region 2 equivalent - there's no difference at all. But not all is lost since the region 3'er contains a blistering dts soundtrack and the film was worth upgrading for that reason alone.