Azumi (あずみ?) is a Japanese manga series created by Yū Koyama, later adapted to film. It concerns the title character, a young woman brought up as part of a team of assassins, charged with killing three warlords that threaten Feudal Japan with an agenda of war and bloodshed. It received an Excellence Prize at the 1997 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1998.
Azumi focuses upon the life of the female assassin Azumi. The manga begins an indeterminate number of years after the Battle of Sekigahara, but as the Azumi begins her assassination missions, the manga introduces the characters into mainstream history. Many of the early assassination missions that Azumi undertakes are the assassinations of the prominent supporters and generals of the Toyotomi Clan, against whom Tokugawa Ieyasu expected to again go to war. The manga 'reveals' that many of the Toyotomi leaders who conveniently died of diseases or accidents prior to the final confrontation between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa were actually victims of assassinations by Azumi and her comrades, thus indicating to the reader when the events were taking place.
Azumi is raised by an old man known as "Jiji" (grandfather), whose name is later revealed to be Gensai Obata, as the only girl among ten students and " grandfather". They are secluded from the rest of society in a tiny valley called "Kiridani" (Fog Valley) to such an extent that they do not know the difference between men and women, what a baby is, or customs like marriage. Early in the manga, as part of their training, Azumi and her comrades are allowed to go to a small community of ninjas to learn the basics of ninjutsu.
The manga sets a chilling tone early on. The 10 "erabareta senshi" (chosen warriors), who are all young children (Azumi has her first period well after her first missions, so she appears to be somewhere between 10–12 years of age at the onset of the manga) are told by Jiji that they have completed their training. For their first mission, they are to form a pair with whomever among the 10 that they feel the closest. Azumi pairs with Nachi, and all others pair with their closest friends. Having formed the pairs, Jiji tells them their first mission is to kill their partner—whoever is too weak to kill their partner is too weak to fulfill their life's missions, and will not be allowed to survive. The ten children each fight their respective duels, and Azumi slays Nachi, an event which appears to deeply traumatize Azumi, but she hides her feelings, as do the others.
Then, their second mission was to slay every person in the ninja commune, including women, children, babies, and their longtime teacher. Azumi hesitates, and is unable to kill a baby, a task which one of her comrades, Ukiha, quickly accomplishes for her, telling her "I'll keep this secret from Jiji".
The remaining five warriors proceed to go on assassination missions of the various important supporters of the Toyotomi Faction. Azumi gradually begins to feel doubts about the morality of killing, but is repeatedly told, quite truthfully, that if her targets remained alive, the coming war between the Toyotomi and Tokugawa will be that much more horrible and result in even more innocent deaths.
Azumi was adapted into a popular and extremely violent action film by Ryuhei Kitamura in 2003. It gained its first international exposure when it was aired on the WOWOW satellite television network. A sequel, Azumi 2: Death or Love, directed by Shusuke Kaneko, followed in 2005.
Azumi feature film
The movie was produced by Mataichiro Yamamoto, and has been distributed to the US by his company, Urban Vision Entertainment, on their label AsiaVision. The film was given a limited nationwide theatrical release beginning in July 2006 with a DVD released November 21, 2006. Azumi has been broadcast on television in the UK, on Film4 and on Bravo, in Sweden on the Swedish Viasat six and in Denmark on TV2 Zulu.
After the Battle of Sekigahara, a samurai is tasked by the Tokugawa shogunate to raise a band of assassins to finish off Toyotomi's three allies: Nagamasa Asano, Kiyomasa Kato and Masayuki Sanada, to prevent another civil war.
Azumi (played by Aya Ueto) is discovered as a 7–8 year old girl kneeling without visible emotion next to the body of her dead mother by the samurai master Gessai, played by Yoshio Harada, and his entourage of young students. Azumi is raised in the martial skills of samurai and shinobi sword fighting, and the art of assassination. Azumi and her fellow classmates, now at young adult age, are constantly being told about a "mission" they must accomplish, though they have no idea what this mission is yet.
Prior to setting out on their mission, their master orders his students to "pair up" with each others' best friend and proceed to kill each other, thus out of 10 students only five will remain to proceed with the mission. Questions and internal conflicts begin to arise amongst Azumi and her comrades as it seems their mission even prevents them from saving a village of mostly women and children from being massacred at the hands of a group of bandits, as they need to keep a low profile in order to achieve their primary mission.
The first leg in their mission, assassinating Nagamasa Asano, goes well. Upon hearing about Asano's death, Kato tasks his general Kanbei with his safety. Kanbei assesses the threat with a convoy containing a body double of Kato, in which his company fails to keep the double alive. The group of young assassins is given leave to see a small traveling circus troupe, where Hyuga falls in love with Yae, one of the troupe's actresses.
After his assessment, Kanbei enlists help from three rogueish brothers who, eventually confuse Yae's circus troupe for the assassins, slaughtering them all until Hyuga, Azumi, and Naraga happen by. By the time the three dispatch the rogues, only Yae is left alive.
Kanbei then sends his monkey-like henchman, Saru to make a deal with the insidious and narcissistic mercenary, Bijomaru Mogami, whom had been previously been imprisoned and was under constant guard. Kanbei promises Bijomaro that should he successfully kill the assassins, his past crimes will be forgotten. Bijomaru agrees and quickly gets to work hunting down the five assassins, with Saru as his guide. Bijomaru's bloodlust, much to the chagrin of Saru, is such that he often kills allies in battle along with his enemy.
As Hyuga walks his beloved Yae back to the main road after saving her from the three brothers, he is confronted by Saru and Bijomaru, and a battle between the assassin and the mercenary ensues. During the battle, Bijomaru uses psychological warfare in addition to swordplay as he explains to a frightened Hyuga that his sword does not contain a hand-guard since he has never had to defend another's blow. As Hyuga lays bleeding and defeated, Bijomaru forces Yae to watch him toy with the dying boy. Saru, uncomfortable with this lack of respect for another warrior, finishes Hyuga off as an act of mercy, and gives Yae leave to bury him.
Azumi soon finds Yae by Hyuga's body. Yae convinces her that the violent lifestyle must be left behind. Together they begin a journey over the mountains and out of the valley to go and live in peace with Yae's kin in Tangou. Yae socializes Azumi during the journey, dressing her in a kimono and adorning her make-up, perfumes and hair treatment. Just as they begin to get comfortable during their journey, a band of brigands finds them as they sleep, and attempt to gang rape the young women. Azumi, who has not slept beside her sword as her training dictated, is caught off guard, but eventually steals the sword of a would-be captor, killing all of the brigands and saving Yae. The experience leaves Azumi understanding that she must obey her training, and complete her mission. She sets off to find her master and comrades, and tells Yae that she will meet her later, in Tangou.
Meanwhile, the Master, Nagara and another attempt to strike another target. The plan is foiled when it is revealed that the shogun has sprung a trap, reinforcing his samurai with common mercenaries. After watching the last of his assassins be killed, the master is captured and placed on a cross in anticipation of Azumi's arrival.
Azumi finds Kato's compound and starts her attack by turning some cannon on the area. She then proceeds through the compound, wreaking havoc enough to attract and impress Bijomaru, who decides to warm up by attacking the common mercenaries while Kanbei and Kato escape to sea. The mercenaries then attack Saru's men, and Azumi's task is made easier by the infighting. A final epic battle takes place between Azumi and Bijomaru, where he claims he is forced to defend for the first time. Upon Bijomaru's defeat, Azumi releases her dying master from the cross and he uses his last breath to tell her to abandon their mission and go live her life.
Later, Kanbei and the shogun are on their boat, congratulating each other about overcoming the assassin threat and plotting their next move against Tokugawa Ieyasu. Azumi appears as if from nowhere, and finishes the warlord in one blow, diving into the sea immediately afterwards. Kanbei is stricken with disbelief and frustration and lashes out at his men.
Azumi then returns to the scene of her epic battle with Bijomaru to find that Nagara had indeed survived and has just made his way out from the rubble he was buried under during the battle. The two resolve that, having killed Shoguns Nagamasa Asano and Kiyomasa Kato, they will complete their mission, and pursue Masayuki Sanada.
- Critical reception
The film received mixed reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 43% of critics gave Azumi positive reviews, based on 28 reviews, with the consensus that "this adaptation of the popular manga series offers exquisitely choreographed violence -- and little else." Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 49 out of 100, based on 14 reviews.
Azumi 2: Death or Love
Immediately after the final events of the first film, Azumi and her remaining friend Nagara are stalked by the men of a warlord she recently assassinated. Upon escaping, they are out-numbered and "out-gunned" and must join forces with a local resistance and a group of bandits in order to kill the remaining warlord and bring peace to Japan. To make things even more complicated for Azumi, she must also confront her emotions in regards to a fighter who bears a scary resemblance to her deceased schoolmate and friend Nachi.
As the manga proceeds, the manga evokes various moral concepts such as the morality of assassinations (and killing in general), the dehumanization effect of politics, as well as leading the reader to question basic assumptions of right and wrong. For example, throughout much of the early to middle volumes of Azumi (Vol. 8-19), Azumi frequently fights and kills many bandits—many of whom are depicted robbing, murdering, and raping innocent victims. Azumi does not question that her killing such bandits is right, and few readers probably question her righteousness. Later on in the manga, the political background to the reason for the banditry is revealed. The Tokugawa ruling family deposed and ended many previously prominent Daimyo (warlords) who opposed them leaving the samurai and mercenaries in their employ without work or any means to live—therefore they resorted to banditry. Azumi questions whether it was right for her to have killed so many men who had been driven to banditry not by their own choice.
A consistent recurring theme is the contrast between Azumi and other prominent characters. Azumi is compared to a bodhisattva—a kind of enlightened being. This is indicative of the theme in Azumi where characters around Azumi are motivated by a variety of obsessions. Some are motivated by a kind of blind idealism, others by religion, others by a lust for battle, greed, or even normally sanctified motivations like honor. Not all the forces (particularly those motivated by more noble incentives, like a pair of ninja assassins whom Azumi kills, who are participating in the planning of a revolt as the only way for a ninja community to survive) are depicted as if their single-minded drive towards their goals are somehow evil. However, nonetheless, in each case, those who are attached intensely to something in the world are killed by Azumi, while Azumi, who seemingly has little attachment to the earthly world and few personal desires, survives.
- Gifford, Kevin. "Azumi". (November 2006) Newtype USA. p. 154.