Based on a popular manga comic, "Azumi" should by all rights be presented as an animated film, and in many ways it has the sensibility of an anime cartoon, albeit one with actual people. In feudal Japan, Azumi, a young orphan girl, is taken in by a mentor who trains her as part of an elite squad of assassins ultimately given the assignment of killing three treacherous warlords.
Compared with the hyperventilating gangster/zombie/swordplay melange of director Ryuhei Kitamura's "Versus," his signature film here in the States, "Azumi" is downright stately, as he keeps the snick-snick editing and even the computer-generated embellishments to a relative minimum. When he decides to turn it on, however, Kitamura really goes all out, especially in the film's dizzying and spectacular one-against-many finale, where the camera makes 360-degree loops around Azumi and her final combatant before their climactic showdown.
As Azumi, Japanese pop idol Aya Ueto sports a short skirt and wrapped legs that are instantly understood as the historical precursor to the saucy schoolgirl look. Even as she slices her way through countless attackers, she mostly just pouts (slightly) and flashes her toned thighs (demurely), projecting less the air of a ferocious killing-machine than a peevish lass whose parents wouldn't let her go to the mall. As her main adversary, however, Jo Odagiri appears to have had a blast as a fey sadist sprung from jail to take down Azumi and her pals.