Cover of Azumi volume 48 as published by Shogakukan
|Written by||Yū Koyama|
|Magazine||Big Comic Superior|
|Original run||1994 – 2008|
|Directed by||Ryuhei Kitamura|
|Produced by||Toshiaki Nakazawa
|Written by||Mataichiro Yamamoto|
|Music by||Taro Iwashiro|
|Released||May 10, 2003|
Azumi (あずみ) is a Japanese manga series created by Yū Koyama in 1994. The manga was originally published by Shogakukan and serialized in Big Comic Superior, and was later adapted to two feature films starring Aya Ueto, a video game and a stage play. Azumi received an Excellence Prize at the 1997 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1998. Its story concerns the title character, a young woman brought up as part of a team of assassins, charged with killing the warlords that threaten the uneasy peace in Feudal Japan following the end of its long Sengoku civil war period.
Azumi focuses upon the life of the titular young female assassin. The manga begins an indeterminate number of years after the Battle of Sekigahara. As Azumi begins her duty, the manga introduces its characters into mainstream history. Many of the early 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. They are secluded from the 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 ordered to go to Shimotani, a hidden community of ninja who became farmers, to learn the basics of ninjutsu. The manga sets a very 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 massacre all 53 residents of the peaceful ninja village, including their teacher, women and children, as they know of the group's existence. Azumi slays three men and four teenagers but is unable to kill a woman with baby, a task which one of her comrades quickly accomplishes.
The remaining five warriors proceed to go on assassination missions of the various important supporters of the Toyotomi faction. As the manga proceeds, it 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 middle volumes of the manga (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 feudal lords 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 she, who seemingly has little attachment to the earthly world and few personal desires, survives.
The film version was co-written and produced by Mataichiro Yamamoto, and has been distributed to the U.S. by his company, Urban Vision, on their label AsiaVision. It gained its first international exposure when it was aired on the WOWOW satellite television network. The film was given a limited U.S. nationwide theatrical release beginning in July 2006, with a DVD home release on November 21, 2006.
As in the manga, Jiji is tasked by the Tokugawa shogunate to raise a band of assassins. Their task is to finish off Toyotomi Hideyoshi's three allies: Nagamasa Asano, Kiyomasa Kato and Masayuki Sanada, to prevent an outbreak of the new civil war.
Azumi (Aya Ueto) is discovered as a little girl kneeling without visible emotion next to the body of her dead mother by Gessai (Yoshio Harada) and his entourage of young students. She is then raised by him in the martial skills of sword fighting and the art of assassination. Azumi and her 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 other's best friend and proceed to kill each other, thus out of ten students only five will remain to proceed with the mission: Azumi pairs with and is forced to kill Nachi, played by Shun Oguri. More 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 (Masatō Ibu), goes well. Upon hearing about Asano's death, Kato (Naoto Takenaka) tasks his general Kanbei Inoue (Kazuki Kitamura) 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 (Kenji Kohashi) falls in love with Yae (Aya Okamoto), 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 (Yuma Ishigaki) arrive. By the time the three dispatch the rogues, only Yae is left alive. Kanbei then sends his monkey-like henchman, Saru (Minoru Matsumoto) to make a deal with the insidious and narcissistic mercenary named Bijomaru Mogami (Joe Odagiri), previously imprisoned and 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, and Yae manages to convince 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 with make-up, perfume and hair treatment. Just as they begin to get comfortable during their journey, a band of brigands finds them as they sleep, and attempts to gang rape the young women. Azumi, who has not slept beside her sword as her training normally 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 Ukiha (Hiroki Narimiya) attempt to strike another target. The plan is foiled when it is revealed that the enemy has sprung a trap, reinforcing his samurai with common mercenaries. The master is captured and placed on a cross in anticipation of Azumi's arrival. She 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 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 Kato 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 Nagamasa Asano and Kiyomasa Kato, they will complete their mission, and pursue Masayuki Sanada.
- 2003 Japanese Academy Awards
- 2004 Independent Film Festival of Boston
- Special Jury Prize (won, tie): Ryûhei Kitamura (Narrative)
- 2004 Philadelphia Film Festival
- Audience Award (won): Ryûhei Kitamura (Best Danger After Dark Film)
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.
The film opened nationwide in Japan on May 10th 2003 opening at #4 grossing $1,304,864 playing at 253 screens. In total the film grossed $6,668,719 in Japan. In the United States the film opened in limited release grossing $2,848 in 1 theater. In total the film grossed $41,803 in North America.
Immediately after the final events of the first film, Azumi and her remaining partner Nagara are stalked by the men of a warlord she recently assassinated. Upon escaping, they are forced to join forces with a local resistance and a group of bandits in order to kill the last remaining warlord and bring lasting 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 Nachi.
An action game for PlayStation 2, based on manga's original story, was developed by Gargoyle Mechanics and released in Japan only by Entertainment Software Publishing in 2005. The game was also re-released as part of the budget-range Simple series (Vol. 32).
The theatrical version, directed by Okamura Toshikazu, premiered on April 3, 2005, starring Meisa Kuroki as Azumi.
- Gifford, Kevin. "Azumi". (November 2006) Newtype USA. p. 154.
- "小学館漫画賞: 歴代受賞者" (in Japanese). Shogakukan. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
- "Azumi Movie Reviews, Pictures—Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 26 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- "Azumi (2006): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
- "IGN: Azumi". Uk.ps2.ign.com. 2004-11-22. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
- "Azumi Original Soundtrack Original Soundtrack (CD)". Cdjapan.co.jp. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
- figuAX あずみアートコレクション 【ハピネットロビン】 (Japanese)
- Official English website of the film (archived)
- Official press site of the film (archived) (Japanese)
- Official website of the game (Japanese)
- Azumi (manga) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Azumi at the Internet Movie Database
- Azumi (video game) at GameFAQs
- Azumi—Vintage Ninja