(Ashura-jo no hitomi) (2005)
Directed by Yojiro Takita

Artistic & Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Sometime during the Tokugawa Shogunate, Edo is infested with demons, which are opposed by the Demon Wardens, who hunt them down. When a member of this group, Izumo Wakuraba (Somegoro Ichikawa), kills a young girl while performing his duties, he becomes disgusted with himself, retires, and starts a new life as a Kabuki actor. Five years later, he encounters a young female thief, Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa), and gets ahold of her hair pin. She, however, wants it back, since it is the only relic of her past, which she is unable to remember. As a result of her efforts to retrieve the pin, the pair learn that they are bound by fate and, subsequently, begin a romantic relationship, although there are hints about Tsubaki that indicate she could be more than human. Meanwhile, a nun, Bizan (Kanako Higuchi), serving Ashura, the slumbering (and transformed) queen of the demons, promises Jaku (Atsuro Watabe), a member of the Demon Wardens, that her queen will grant him tremendous power for his services if he will help to awaken this fiend.

Yojiro Takita's Ashura is a generally enjoyable, often exciting, and frequently beautiful film.


The director certainly has included some visually appealing moments in his work. The sets are consistently gorgeous. At one time or another, the viewer is shown some outlandish, colorful street in Edo, alive with brilliantly colored lanterns, brightly painted banners, and bustling activity, a strange supernatural bridge that leads over an expanse of water to the realm of the demons, an upside down castle descending from the overcast skies above Edo, a crazy tangle of stairs within this castle (which was clearly inspired by the works of Escher), and more. Happily, most the film's costumes are just as good. A few are a little tacky or cheap looking, but most either draw the viewer into some past world or impress him with their outlandish ornateness. The movie really is a delight simply to look at.

Happily, the story the director tells is also enjoyable. While it is nothing special, it does have a sufficient number of intriguing details to retain the viewer's interest. Takita effectively reveals Izumo's unhappiness, his growing love for Tsubaki, and Tsubaki's gradual transformation from a sad but resilient young woman into something monstrous. There are, in fact, some genuinely creepy moments as the woman's evil is exposed. That during which she and Izumo make love while the latter is wounded and his blood drips onto her skin and is absorbed into her is especially eerie.

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What is more, most of Ashura's action sequences are reasonably well done. I will hardly claim that they are brilliantly choreographed or truly stunning, but they do convey a sense of excitement and so keep the viewer engaged. Like so much else in the film, they help to draw the moviegoer into the director's fictional world.

Lastly, I should mention that the movie's soundtrack, which was created by Yoko Kanno, is amazing. It intensifies every moment of Ashura.

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I was never truly awed by Ashura, but it is undoubtedly worth seeing. It is a thoroughly entertaining movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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