PictureOn Region A-locked Taiwanese Blu-ray the movie comes presented in 1080p High Definition in its original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.78:1. The advantage of this release is that, not only does it boast the longer original cut, but it provides the movie in the original scope – not zoomed-in as it was on Western release, which subsequently resulted in a downgrade in resolution. Still, even retaining its original format, it does not look fantastic on Blu-ray. We’re talking about an image that displays a litany of just about every defect you would not want present on a quality release of the film. It’s not as if the movie is even that old, but I guess the production style and limitations shine through (even though the reality is that it had quite a high budget for an Asian production), and many sequences display softness, edge enhancement, and a layer of grain that I doubt the Director actually intended for his piece. But the end result is far from hard to watch, and the lacklustre picture quality does lend itself quite well to the period setting, it has to be said. Further in that respect, the colour range is quite limited – sure Azumi’s opening garb, a strange rainbow-coloured one-piece, is one of the more vibrant elements, but an early shot where she is looking out over the landscape, with a beautiful blue sky above and lush green environment below, marks the absolute high point of this marginally disappointing visual rendition, which seems far too murky for its own good. Black levels are also not great, which does not help as many scenes seem unnecessarily bathed in low-level lighting, and suffer distinctly as a result. I bet it is easily the best visual representation of the movie on the market, and it may even please fans who have had to tolerate even worse with the SD-DVD predecessors, but certainly in comparison to bigger budgeted efforts it does not stand a chance.
SoundOn the aural front things are also a little limited, though this time by the choice to only include a standard def Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track as the main aural offering. Sure, the proceedings aren’t exactly boisterous and explosion-packed (ok, there are actually a few explosions) but they could have splashed out on a Hi-Def alternative. Dialogue comes across clearly from the frontal array and the sound effects – which rarely evoke any great ambience – do occasionally provide some surround impact, with the occasional gunshot and explosion breaking out and even waking the otherwise comatose LFE channel. Most of it’s twangy, exaggerated sword-on-sword action, however, but that’s ok, and with a fairly unmemorable, but also quite appropriate score running throughout to give the surrounds more to do, it makes for a distinctly unexceptional but also not too objectionable offering. The English subtitles, on the other hand, are far from fantastic, and occasionally downright silly, but it’s preferable to tolerate them than suffer the shorter cut in order to have a marginally more coherent translation.
ExtrasAll we get in terms of extras is a Trailer for the sequel, Azumi 2: Death or Love, which plays automatically at the end of the movie, but which can also be accessed from the menu.
VerdictAzumi is one of those live-action movies that has been adapted from the pages of a popular Anime series, and it shows in the end result. Still, this is both a good and bad thing, occasionally making it seem cheap and tacky (certainly the sets and costumes do not showcase the relatively – for an Asian movie – high budget) but mostly giving it a sense of fun, and instilling the violent action sequences with a much needed spark. With a pretty young pop-star lead, wielding her sword with, if not skill, then certainly aplomb, and cutting a bloody swathe through numerous colourful and somewhat engaging enemies, it has, over the last few years, proven to have its fair share of fans, so much so that it received a follow-up film, Azumi 2: Death or Love, which rounds off some interesting story arcs.
On Region A-locked Taiwanese Blu-ray, this release is one of the few – if not the only – High Definition renditions of the original, longer Japanese cut of the movie, presented in its original scope too. Although the video and audio are far from standout, and the extras non-existent, fans of the film will probably be quite keen on upgrading to this, probably the best release of the movie thus-far. Enjoyable, fantastical, frivolous sword-wielding fun.
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