One of the unique aptitudes of Frank the killer gaijin from In the Miso Soup is the knack of cutting throats without setting off a massive multi-directional bloodspray. You can see why the Japanese might be impressed with this - in Azumi nobody seems to have acquired this singular skill.
Yet the first 'crimson shower' comes as something of a surprise. Before then the build-up has been a bit unpromising - ten boistrous, high-fiving, trainee assassins frolicking in the forest, dressed like characters from SEGA's Soul Caliber, sequestered in preparation for a series of remedial warlord whackings "over the mountains", which are aimed at restoring stability to the Tokugawa Shogunate. More like Monkeh! than Kill Bill. Then suddenly, almost out of the blue, it gets rather dark.
As Azumi, the lone gal of the group, Aya Ueto is very good on the eye - in spite of the efforts of her costume designer. She even picks up her own lesbian love interest in the shape of travelling performer Yae, played by the also quite lovely Aya Okamoto. The campness is compounded by the murderous nutjob that the warlords release from prison to counteract the political re-modelling of Azumi and her chums - he's styled like a cross between a member of the Human League and that girl that crawls out of the TV in Ringu.
This is effervescent pulp. It has no business really being such great entertainment, but it is. Some movies like Cold Mountain pose as epics only to end up naff. The reverse is the case here. Director Ryuhei Kitamura was responsible for that entertaining zombie movie Versus, which also extracted a powerful sense of bizarre originality out of essentially commoditised situations. Both films are at once hysterical spoofs and deadly serious.
This is not something that Hollywood film-makers are especially good at, not even les enfants terribles. Even when is he trying VERY hard (say when he scripted From Dusk 'Till Dawn) Tarantino never gets particularly close to the seemingly effortless and unpredictable fucked-upness of Japanese cinema.