Story: Azumi (Aya Ueto) and Nagara (Yuma Ishigaki) are assassins and the sole survivors of their last
mission. They contact their employer and inform him that only Masayuki Sanada (Mikijiro Hira) needs to be taken out for
their assignment to be completed. At the same time they are chased after by Kanbei (Kazuki Kitamura) and his men as
he wants to avenge his assassinated master. Meanwhile, Sanada is sending out his clan of ninjas to kill the assassins and
their employer. His goal is to plunge the country into war, which is supposed to bring down the Tokugawa regime once
and for all. On her trip to Sanada's residence Azumi runs into the thief Ginkaku (Shun Oguri), who reminds her of her
friend Nachi. Dark memories crawl up in Azumi reminding her of when she had to kill Nachi as her final test. Eventually,
Ginkaku and his gang of thieves join Azumi, as does Kozue (Chiaki Kuriyama), but only Azumi can pose a threat to Sanada's ninjas.
She has no choice, but to face the ninjas in order to fulfill her mission and prevent a war.
Review: Sequels always carry with them an extreme amount of freight. Especially in the case of Ryuhei Kitamura having breathed life into
a manga source material with the kind of great vibrant directing that makes action fans sit at the edge of their seats: "Azumi".
The first time I saw "Azumi 2" I was incredibly disappointed. The second time, after a few years having passed, I can say that I now knew what I had to
expect... and yet I still got disappointed. The sequel simply lacks the kind of pacing that is appropriate for a film like this. Furthermore, the story
has so little to offer that it almost has to be called outrageous to try and squeeze a whole movie out of it. In the end the characters are also everything
but well developed.
First, we need to deal with the directing. The movie has oftentimes the extremely strong flair of a tv film to it. Moreover, all the zoom-ins during the action
is cause for quite some irritation. Maybe this had some sort of appeal in the 70s with a Shaw Brothers flick from Hong Kong, but nowadays you just can't do that.
Apart from this director Shusuke Kaneko uses too many close-up shots. This may have worked with his movie "Cross Fire" and
it also hadn't any real negative impact on his live action adaptation of "Death Note", but it is the death blow to an action
flick. To put the camera too close to the action during a sword fight simply results in not being able to make out anything. Surely it doesn't emotionally
involve us with the action.
But that's exactly what seemed to be the director's goal. Because there are frequently dramatic moments during which some character dies. But those characters
are just blank sheets. In the first installment many of the flaws that come to the foreground here weren't really apparent. The characters are weakly written,
a fact that couldn't really be noticed with all the action featured back then. In "Azumi 2" the characters and their motives are tackled quite often. But they
just aren't written well enough! The subplot revolving around a doppelganger of Nachi is also thrown into the movie without any motivation. Solely to forge a
bridge to the first installment. In the flashbacks the movie's technical flaws become obvious once more, too, featuring a blurry frame that makes the flashbacks
discernable as such. Those technical missteps also become obvious when it comes to the choice of locations.
Most of the time "Azumi 2: Death or Love" takes place in the woods or somewhere else under nature's roof, as long as it keeps productions costs low. That doesn't necessarily got to be bad, but since the rest, like a completele negligible screenplay, doesn't deliver, it just complements the impression of a B-movie we are fobbed off with. Ok, so the movie is more heavy on drama, but are there any sword fights after all? Yes, actually there are more than enough, but they simply aren't good. Aya Ueto may still know some of her movies, but she is a lot slower now and the rest of the cast can't deliver any neat action either. Even if you don't expect anything breathtaking you will be disappointed. In the action scenes it becomes particularly apparent how much of the actors' shortcomings Kitamura managed to conceal with his directing and nice editing.
Characteristic for the movie's downsides is the grand finale, which really isn't one. Azumi finds herself facing a whole army of enemies and the reference to the first installment can't be any more obvious. The more disappointing the end result. A few small moves with the sword and the somewhat anticlimactic showdown is over. Additionally, the manga/anime-typical villains and their skills can't convince either, maybe a few of the genuine weapons can. The action doesn't manage to captivate, the drama elements on the other hand aren't really that bad, if it weren't for a screenplay that is too shallow and a few scenes that drag on too long. Ultimately, "Azumi 2" is a bitter disappointment as a sequel and if looking at it as a stand-alone work it merely is a (below) average action flick.