Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005)
Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Sometime after the events of Azumi, the eponymous protagonist (Aya Ueto), a beautiful young assassin, and her sole surviving friend, Nagara (Yuma Ishigaki), set out to prevent a rebellion against the Tokugawa Shogunate by a recalcitrant feudal lord who is being aided by a clan of killers with supernatural powers. Soon after taking on this mission, Azumi and Nagara are joined by a young man, Ginkaku (Shun Oguri), who resembles another of their old friends, whom Azumi herself previously killed, and by a young woman, Kozue (Chiaki Kuriyama), with mysterious motives of her own.

Shusuke Kaneko's Azumi 2: Death or Love is an entertaining if largely undistinguished action film.

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The movie really does have quite a few faults and rarely rises above its general mediocrity. The narrative is so simple that it does little more than provide excuses for the numerous fights in which Azumi and her allies become involved. The pacing could have been greatly improved. The acting is, at times, hammy, and the director's attempts at emotional scenes are painfully inept. Oddly, however, many of these elements are so poorly done that they actually give the movie a cheesiness that somehow enhances it appeal.

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Moreover, the action sequences with which the film is very frequently punctuated are often genuinely fun. None of them may be as well crafted as are those of Azumi, but several of them, including the heroine's battle with a man able to spin a web with razor sharp wires, her and Nagara's struggle with a band of gun wielding masked killers, and her and her allies' fight with a warrior armed with a boomerang-like blade he uses to chop his enemies in half at the waist, are thrilling. Sadly, the film's concluding action routine is disappointing. It is not especially dramatic and leaves the viewer feeling cheated.

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Whatever its shortcomings, I must concede that Azumi 2 is almost always visually appealing. The thickly forested hills amongst which the events of the narrative occur, with their bamboo groves, gnarled roots, shady streams, narrow paths lined with dense foliage, and the like, are simply stunning. There is, in fact, hardly a moment of the film during which the viewer is not likely to be captivated simply by the beauty of the natural backdrops the director has chosen. Fortunately, these are not the movie's only visual virtues. The costumes are, for the most part, well realized, and the lead actress, Aya Ueto, is a remarkably attractive young women who is always a pleasure to look at.

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Lastly, I should add that while Miss Ueto hardly reveals herself to be an accomplished actress, she is more than adequate in her role. She is graceful, sad, and convincing. Not only that, but she also has a delightful on screen presence that allows the viewer to remain engaged with her character throughout the film. In fact, she consistently outshines all her co-stars. Chiaki Kuriyama does have a girlish charm during most of her scenes, but, as appealing as she can be, she never upstages the lead.

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I will not claim that Azumi 2 is more than a pleasant diversion, but it is that. While never as thrilling as is the first movie, it is so gleefully silly that is fun to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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