Ashura – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Directed by
Yojiro Takita

Cast:
Somegoro Ichikawa … Izumo Wakuraba
Rie Miyazawa … Tsubaki
Kanako Higuchi … Bizan
Atsuro Watabe … Jaku Abe
Fumiyo Kohinata … Nanboku Tsuruya IV
Takashi Naitô … Nobuyuki Kuninari


The Movie:

For fans of more fantasy themed Anime epics, such as Ninja Scroll or Princess Mononoke, it’s disappointing that more film makers haven’t tried bring those types of stories to the live action format. While the genre’s energy and visual splendor would be difficult to fully reproduce, an example such as Ryuhei Kitamura’s Azumi shows exactly what kind of wondrous achievement this type of venture could possibly be. Unfortunately, on the other hand there are also films such as Ashura, directed by Yojiro Takita, where you can see why more directors have not tried to emulate Japanese animation more often.

Based on a popular Kabuki play, Ashura is a frustratingly uneven experience of a movie, shifting from great looking Fantasy picture to melodramatic bore. Flourishes of energy and visual flair are too often cut down by tenuous dialogue sequences and uninspired cinematography. Even as the movie goes to its action scenes, they are wildly uneven, as the opening mêlée and a mind bending battle toward film’s end are eclipsed by stilted and campy exchanges throughout the movie. Trying to be an outrageous Sword epic and a traditional Kabuki-style adventure, Ashura tries to please both sets of fans and ends up pleasing neither.

The picture deals with the story of Izumo Wakuraba (Somegoro Ichikawa), the most proficient killer in a sect known as a the Demon Wardens, a group dedicated to destroying demons that mask themselves as regular people. We see his prowess in the film’s opening act, in a dazzling action sequence in which he dispatches his enemies with violent skill. This is when the movie is really at its best. When revealed, the demons grow fangs and bleed green blood, making for striking images of combat.

Unfortunately, the next two hours are a convoluted, slowly paced mess. A traumatic experience causes Izumo to abandon his previous lifestyle, but when he falls in love with a young woman, Tsubaki (Rie Miyazawa), who is part of a traveling acrobat troupe, he finds out she may be the reincarnation of Ashura, queen of the demons. This leads to scores of double dealings between the leadership of the demons and those that would hunt them, but none of it is terribly interesting.

The movie’s best asset is its use of CGI, which is at times very impressive and the charismatic performance of Somegoro Ichikawa. The actor plays Izumo completely over the top, making for an enjoyably campy performance. He even looks quite adept when it comes to the film’s swordplay, only he is let down by Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagishima.

With more dynamic camerawork, the film’s fights could have been able to hide some of the movie’s lackluster choreography. Yanagishima instead insists on shooting many of the battles with long shots, giving them a more traditional feel, but also making them maddeningly boring to look at. This is just the tip of this movie’s schizophrenic iceberg, in which it wants to flourish within the confines of it Anime-like visuals, but ends up sinking into a more traditional costume picture.

Any story problems within Ashura could have easily been overlooked if it had more energy, which it does contain sparsely. Director Yojiro Takita sets up an interesting mythology, but fails to really make it compelling. He uses amazing CGI backgrounds at times, but they end up housing the most mundane proceedings, especially in the film’s final ten minutes, which are horrendously yawn inducing. If it had somehow gone either way, the film would have been much more successful, as it is, Ashura puts you at the edge of your seat, just to put you to sleep when you get there.


The DVD:

The Video
The movie’s print is one of the best aspects of the disc. This a terrific looking picture from start to finish, with the movie’s visuals being highlighted by AnimEigo’s terrific print. The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is also quite nice. The movie’s dialogue is always crystal clear throughout whether the characters are in battle or not.


SPECIAL FEATURES:

Making of Ashura – This is a nice 25 minute Featurette about the making of the film. Director Yojiro Takita talks at length about how difficult it was to do the film’s Kabuki scenes. Apparently, he decided to even have another director who was more familiar with the art form step in and do the scenes.

Video Effects of Ashura – This is a pretty standard piece about the movie’s CGI shots and how they were developed from concept drawings by the author of the play. Shots were flawlessly translated in some circumstances, and its too bad that this hard work went into a movie that is less than invigorating.

Interactive Program Notes

Original Theatrical Trailers

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Ashura
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

5
THE VIDEO

8
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

5
REPLAY VALUE

5
OVERALL
5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)