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Japan 2003
produced by
Toho, Sedic
directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
starring Aya Ueto, Hiroki Narimiya, Kenji Kohashi, Takatoshi Kaneko, Yuma Ishigaki, Yoshio Harada, Minoru Matsumoto, Jo Odagiri, Naoto Takenaka, Kazuki Kitamura, Aya Okamoto, Yasutaka Sano, Hideo Sakaki, Shinji Suzuki, Eita Nagayama, Shun Oguri, Shogo Yamaguchi, Kenichi Endo, Kazuya Shimizu, Ryo, Masato Ibu, Tak Sakaguchi
based on a manga by Yu Koyama

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Azumi (Aya Ueto) belongs to a gang of assassins, trained in the mountains by their master Gessai (Yoshio Harada), for some good cause he refuses to specify upon.  After years & years of training he promises to take them down from the hills, to fullfill their mission - but first each of the gang has to choose his/her favourite teammate & kill him/her, to prove himself competent as a killer ... & Azumi has to kill her boyfriend Nachi (Shun Oguri) ...

The gang (by now shrinked down to 5 assassins & their master) later watches a massacre, but master Gessai forbids his students to intervene to not endanger their mission. In Azumi, first doubts grow.

The mission of our gan turns out to be to kill 3 mighty warlords, & the first is bumped off without any problems, but the second warlord, Kiyomasa (Naoto Takenaka) proves to be a different problem altogether. Not only is he guarded by a bataillon of soldiers led by his trusted bodyguard Kanpei (Kazuki Kitamura) & a group of ninjas who carry poisonous blades led by the monkey-like Saru (Minoru Matsumoto), he is also wise enough to send a double in his stead, so after a long fight in the course of which one of the assassins, Amagi (Takatoshi Kaneko), gets poisoned, they end up one man short, without a mission accomplished, & their cover is blown.

Saru then decides to send some killers after our assassins, who are of course readily killed by Azumi & gang, but not before they have killed off a wandering circus, all but performer Yae (Aya Okamoto), whom one of our assassins, Hyuga (Kenji Kohashi) is madly in love with ...

However, when Hyuga & Azumi show compassion towards both Yae & the dieing Agami, they reach nothing but being fired from their killing duties by Gessai, who decides to go after Lord Kiyomasa with only his 2 remaining students, the loyal Ukiha (Hiroki Narimiya) & the klutzy Nagara (Yuma Ishigaki).

Hyuga meanwhile takes off with Yae, but soon meets his match (& death) in the most sadistic killer Bijomaru (Jo Odagiri), whom Saru has freed from lifelong imprisonment just to slay master Gessai & his gang of assassins.

Yae then tries to hook up with Azumi & to dissuade her from her lethal ways, but after the 2 women are almost raped, Azumi realizes that there is no way for her but the way of the sword.

Kiyomasa meanwhile has made it to the coastal city Gamba, to outrun his assassins at sea, but master Gessai & his 2 students soon attack the village ... but get into an ambush, & while Nagara somehow makes it off, Ukiha is killed & Gessai imprisoned.

Then Azumi enters Gamba too, & causes much chaos & destruction, that somehow even turns the inhabitants of Gamba against Kiyomasa's samurais & they start killing each other, much to the enjoyment of Bijomaru, who joins in the killing, slaying friend & foe alike, until of the whole village only he & Azumi are left alive, & they have their final fierce battle ... which Azumi wins, finally bringing a death to Bijomaru he has brought to so many others ...

But what about Lord Kiyomasa ?

He has made it out onto the open see & believes himself in safety, when out of the blue (as in blue water), Azumi appears & slays him for good.

& back in Gamba she even finds Nagara, who apparently was too klutzy to get killed, & they agree to go on & slay the third worlord on their list ...


On the surface, Azumi may seem like an ordinary (if very well-made) samurai movie, with plenty of bloodletting & hyperkinetic action. What makes Azumi outstanding though is its refusal to give its main character any real justification for her deeds (as she herself is doubtful of their righteousness), but without on the other hand simply condemning them. The distinction beween good & bad is more than ambivalent here, as the story (purpously) refuses to give the audienceany backgrounds about the assassins' victims & the decisions of their master are put into doubt more than once.

However, strong visuals & breathtaking fightscenes make this not amere philosophical discourse about good & evil, but an entertaining and thoughtful piece of action cinema.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD