Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 13th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, February 8th, 2005
Director: Shusuke Kaneko
Writers: Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Mataichiro Yamamoto
Cast: Aya Ueto, Yuma Ishigaki, Chiaki Kuriyama, Shun Oguri, Kenichi Endo, Kai Shishido
DVD released: October 17th, 2005
Approximate running time: 108 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: DTS Japanese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
DVD Release: Optimum Asia
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £19.99
Synopsis: Azumi and Nagara are hired assassins who travel around Tokugawa Japan in search of work. Kanbei Inoue is hell bent on avenging his master who was killed by Azumi and Nagara. Kanbei Inoue forms an alliance with Masayuki Sanada a government official who wants to keep the war going. This alliance brings together Azumi’s two greatest enemies who she must now dispose to fulfill her quest for vengeance and end war once and for all.
Asia has long been a forerunner in making films with strong heroines’ who are equally as skilled and bad ass as their male counter parts. No where is this more evident then in the land of the rising sun in which hundreds of Manga’s featuring strong female action characters have been made into literally dozen’s of feature films. Azumi 2: Death or Love picks up where the first Azumi film let off with a few minor changes that most notable is director Ryuhei Kitamura with veteran director Shusuke Kaneko. The two filmmakers’ styles couldn’t be more night and day. While Azumi 2: Death may not be as kinetic as its predecessor it more then makes up for it with more time given to the development of the main characters.
Actress Aya Ueto returns as the lead Azumi and this time around she look more comfortable in her skin as she gives her character a deeper humanity then had been established in the previous film. Chiaki Kuriyama of Kill Bill fame has plays a Ninja named Kozue and just like ever other film that I have seen her in she steals the scenes that is she is in. I wasn’t to impressed with a few of the bad guys/gals who looked more like Marvel superheroes instead of arch nemesis from the same time period in which the film takes place. One of the heavies shots spider webs out of his palms exactly like Peter parker (Spiderman) does and even though his costume makes him look more like an ape then a spider.
One of the best characters is Kanbei Inoue who has a group of ninja’s dressed in mess masks and they even have guns which I feel out of place with the rest of the film. Kanbei Inoue has no fancy gadgets he just settles his disputes the old fashion way with a sword and the main is totally driven by his anger. This film has plenty a blood soaked action set pieces that are sure to satisfy fans of the Azumi series. These actions sequences are all expertly executed and what I liked was that rarely if ever did they ever repeat a stunt or gimmick from the previous battles. Overall Azumi 2: Death or Love shouldn’t be taken to seriously since this film is all about having fun and nothing more.
Optimum Asia presents Azumi 2: Love or Death in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The source material used for this release is in great shape as the colors look nicely saturated and flesh tones look natural. There are no problems with artifacts or compression and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. Overall details remain sharp and even at a distance.
This release comes with two audio options a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a Dolby Digital Stereo in the films native Japanese language. Both audio tracks are clean and dialog is easy to follow. The music and effects sound evenly mixed. There are no problems with distortion or any other audio defects. Overall the main difference between the two is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix offers a slightly fuller sound then the other audio mix.
Removable English subtitles have been included that are easy to read and follow.
Extras for this release include the films original trailer and trailers for other Optimum Asia titles currently available on DVD. The main extra for this release is a featurette that runs about thirty minutes in length. This extra mostly contains behind the scenes footage with clips from the film and a few brief interviews with cast and crew. Azumi 2: Love or Death can be bought individually or as part of a two pack DVD release that also includes its predecessor Azumi. Optimum Asia have done another solid job with the audio/video portion of the film and it would have been nice if they had included more informative extras that discussed not only the first Azumi film but the Manga series which is the basis for these films. Fans of the first film will not be disappointed with Azumi 2: Love or Death that has just the right amount of swordplay and bloodshed.