Ueto Aya stars in AZUMI 2: LOVE OR DEATH, directed by Kaneko Shusuke for Toho Company Ltd.

Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

So, why when making a sequel to a successful film, do film companies do it on the cheap? This practice is getting uncommon in the US (except direct-to-video sequels), but was prevalent in the 1970s–each Planet of the Apes film made more money and had a drastically lower budget. It’s like the company is assuming they’ll make some money no matter what, so why bother?Azumi 2 does the double injustice of having incredibly shitty villains too. It’s not just the “comic book,” ninja super-villains, the special effects of their powers are awful….

I guess I saw the first film in January, long ago enough that I started remembering it during Azumi 2 and some comparisons were inevitable. Like how much better a director the first film had… Azumi 2 is rather confused. It’s got some action, but not a lot. Too much of the silly super-ninjas, not enough regular ninjas. There’s no budget, so the characters spent all their time walking around the forest. I’m not sure if Japan has forest preserves, they must, but I mean like in the US. Azumi 2 could have been shot in Central Park or something, there’s so little variety. It’s a small movie, filled with small shots–Kaneko can’t get the camera off the ground and so the audience isn’t feeling anything grandiose. It’s not all Kaneko’s fault (I’ll get to what he does right in a minute). It’s the script. There’s a big warning sign for sequels–if the sequel is produced by the producer of the first film and said producer is writing the sequel, that’s a problem. It’s a big neon problem. It doesn’t help that Azumi 2‘s other screenwriter appears to write anime. Anime is… cartoons. Super-villains are okay in cartoons. Super-villains aren’t okay messing up Azumi 2.

With these moronic super-villains, one of these twits is dressed up like a raccoon or something (really), and they all have rubber chest-plates, you’d think that I wouldn’t have anything nice to say. Oh, these super-twits. Can’t act. All the good acting is from people from the first film (more in a second). First, a compliment for Kaneko, and probably the only friggin’ reason I’m giving this film a “1.” I haven’t yet. I hate kind of liking sequels to films I recommend. It’s a personal insult or something. All right, here it is… Azumi 2 does not mess around with dying people. People don’t just go quiet into that good night. They don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die. And Kaneko shows it to us–three or four times–and it hurts. There’s some real human conflict in these scenes, a real sensitivity, that’s totally foreign to the rest of the film. These scenes aren’t short either. I think one of them goes on for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of someone dying… alone, but not exactly, it’s a beautiful scene and it tears.

The acting, from a handful of people, is good. Ueto Aya, as Azumi, is good, though Kaneko doesn’t know how to shoot a bad-ass. In the scenes where people are saying she’s “just a pretty girl” or something, it’s shot from those characters’ perspectives, not from either hers or the third. The first film’s director knew how to shoot bad-ass. Kaneko just doesn’t and it hurts the stand-off scenes. Only a couple actors from the first film return, one’s good, one isn’t. The villains, super or not, are all pretty terrible. Some of the new good guys are okay, certainly okay enough to keep the film going–though the super-villains bring about some jaw-dropping. Who thought raccoon-boy was a good villain?

Azumi is based on a manga series that runs twenty-five volumes, but I doubt there’s an Azumi 3 on the horizon. Oddly, I just found that Azumi is going to be back next year… but on stage. Love that Google. I don’t know if I can recommend Azumi 2 to anyone, even folks who liked Azumi, though if you didn’t like Azumi, I don’t know if you could sit through the super-ninjas in Azumi 2, desperately waiting for a good moment. It’s not a terrible film (got the “1”), but it’s such a disappointment… what can you say? Don’t make cheap sequels or, if you do, hire someone who knows how to direct them.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shusuke; written by Yamamoto Mataichiro and Kawajiri Yoshiaki, based on the manga by Koyama Yu; director of photography, Sakamoto Yoshitaka; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; production designer, Inagaki Hisao; produced by Nakazawa Toshiaki and Yamamoto; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ueto Aya (Azumi), Ishigaki Yuma (Nagara), Kuriyama Chiaki (Kozue), Oguri Shun (Ginkaku), Shishido Kai (Hanzou), Kitamura Kazuki (Kanbei) and Hira Mikijiro (Sanada Masayuki).


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