Action director and dedicated thigh-fetishist Kaneko Shusuke helms this second cinematic paean to the supremely photogenic and tragically vapid Aya Ueto. The sequel finds the director just as in love with his pulchritudinous starlet as was the original, but just as incapable of wringing a remotely convincing performance out of her. Whether she’s cutting chain mail clad ninjas in half, mooning over her inevitable love interest or grieving for her fallen comrades, she wears the same expression. She’s as lovely to look at as a sleeping kitten, but just as active and slightly less intimidating. When you’re meant to be a samurai, the latter point is sort of a problem.
We should not expect much realism from silly girls-with-swords flicks, of course, but the Azumi movies are sort of disturbing in the degree to which the star doesn’t seem to be in on the joke. Not that all the blame for this limp film rests with Ueto. Surprisingly, the sequel is a significant step down in action and style from the first instalment. It looks a lot cheaper even though it probably wasn’t, with sub-par fight choreography and overlong action scenes. The whole thing is overlong, indeed, at an unnecessary 108 minutes.
Azumi 2‘s wildcard is the recruitment into Azmui’s band of assassins of Chiaki Kuriyama, of Kill Bill and Battle Royale fame. While she’s not much more adept an action star than Ueto (a little, but not much) she at least possesses a hint of awareness about what sort of movie she’s making, and she can perform a reasonably decent evil/badass/not-to-be-fucked-with expression. The latter point makes her character arc more than a little obvious, and after she turns into the middle-act villain she has a lot of fun with the inescapable anachronism of her performance, resurrecting the giggling and sadistic Gogo Yubari, sans school uniform. In short, Kuriyama brings the movie to life half an hour in, then brings it to a grinding halt by exiting with half an hour to go.
I’m giving this movie a higher rating than it really deserves due to the one area in which it is an unqualified success. It might be pretentious, lascivious and reductive all at the same time, but to me, beautiful faces writ large upon a silver screen are just about the principle pleasure of the cinema. Azumi 2 sure has one of those, even if it doesn’t move much.