Production on Shusuke
Kaneko's 27th feature film has begun! Picking up the
reigns of last year's Azumi, Mr. Kaneko is
currently lensing its sequel, Azumi 2. Going
before cameras on 15 April 2004, Azumi 2 is
shooting in the city of Kyoto at Uzumasu Studios and
in the scenic mountains and forests surrounding the
former Japanese capital. Additionally, the
production has spent time shooting in Fukuyama, a
city close to Hiroshima.
For the uninitiated, Azumi is the tale of
Azumi, a young woman trained from childhood to be
the ultimate assassin. Azumi 2, which picks
up shortly after the events of the first Azumi,
is set around the beginning of the Tokugawa period
of Japan (1603 - 1867). In Azumi 2, the
sword-wielding Azumi struggles to put to rest the
threat of Tokugawa rival Masayuki Sanada in order to
maintain national unity and to keep Japan on its
Azumi is based on the manga by Yuu Koyama and
was originally presented in Big Comic Spirits in
1994. Since then, it has been released by Shogakukan
in incrementing volumes. To date there are
thirty-two manga in the series.
Azumi 2 stars popular actress Aya Ueto as
Azumi. The eighteen-year old Ms. Ueto is reprising
her character from the original Azumi motion
picture. Ms. Ueto got her start in show business
when in 1997 she won a special citation at the
seventh "Kokumin-teki Bishojo contest," a
national beauty competition. Since then, she has
appeared in many TV commercials and in several
popular TV dramas such as "3 Nen B Gumi Kimpachi
Sensei" (01 - 02), "Koukoukyoshi" (03), "Hito
Natsu no Papa e" (03), and "Eesu o Nerae!"
Co-starring is Chiaki Kuriyama. The star of such
features as Shikoku, JU-ON, and
Battle Royale, Ms. Kuriyama is perhaps best
known outside Japan for her portrayal of Gogo Yubari,
the ball and chain wielding baddie in the film
Kill Bill: Vol. 1. For Azumi 2, Ms.
Kuriyama portrays Kozue, an assassin with an
upbringing not dissimilar from that of Azumi.
Azumi 2 sees the return of several Azumi
alumni, such as Shun Oguri (Nachi), Yuma Ishigaki (Nagara)
and Kenichi Endo (Isshin Sajiki). Rounding out the
cast is Shun Ito as Kizimaru, Shoichiro Matsumoto as
Saburouta, Mikijiro Hira as Masayuki Sanada, Kenji
Takechi, and Tomonori Tsukada.
Catching up with the production, the Shusuke Kaneko
Information Website’s first day on the Azumi 2
set was 29 April 2004. Having just moved from Kyoto
to Fukuyama, the staff and cast of Azumi 2
were making use of “Miroku no Sato.” A setting best
described as a samurai village, it was originally
built for the Zatoichi productions of the 1980s.
With the area located in the woods and given over to
old style homes and shops it was easy to feel as if
having been transported back several hundreds of
years — film equipment and the sight of a distant
roller coaster jutting over the trees aside!
Scheduled on this day were interiors within the
largest building of the village, which for Azumi
2 had been transformed into a restaurant. Actors
dressed in colorful period costumes enjoyed
traditional meals of vegetables and roasting fish.
That is until a band of rowdy samurai burst in to
disrupt the peace! Mayhem ensued until one samurai
was killed… Or was he?
On this day, Shusuke Kaneko was in top form as he
directed Azumi 2 star Aya Ueto and the film's
cast and crew within the cramped interior. For the
scene, several actors sat around a large rectangular
wood basin where real fish cooked on sticks in a
style known as "robata-yaki". Ms. Ueto, in her
trademark white and purple Azumi outfit, hung toward
the back of the scene, enacting Azumi as an
Working closely with Mr. Kaneko is director of
photography Yoshitaka Sakamoto. A veteran filmmaker,
Mr. Sakamoto is closely associated with the films of
director Masato Harada, having served as DP on many
of Mr. Harada's productions. Mr. Sakamoto is
utilizing both film and digital cameras for the
Azumi 2 production. Digital photography is being
employed to aid the film's post-production and its
many effects scenes.
In addition to CG, Azumi 2 will feature its
share of conventional "analog" effects. For example,
on this evening came a violent fight in which blood
spraying devices were used to grizzly effect.
The following day, 30 April, saw more meaty action
scenes with samurai facing off against ninja in the
dusty, windblown streets of Miroku no Sato.
Here, stars Ms. Ueto, Ms. Kuriyama and Mr. Ishigaki
enacted scenes where their characters find
themselves pitted against an over numbering horde
that descends upon them remorselessly.
Producer and Azumi 2 storywriter Mataichiro
"Mata" Yamamoto arrived this day, having made the
trek by car from Tokyo. In addition to producing the
Azumi series, Mr. Yamamoto is known for his films
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Winds
(1992), and many anime productions. Mr. Yamamoto is
the brainchild behind the live-action Azumi
series and has a strong passion for the franchise.
His wish is for Azumi to bridge the gap between
anime and Japanese live-action film. On the set, the
outgoing Mr. Yamamoto added a definite spark to the
dynamic of the shoot by sharing his filmmaking
passion and entertaining tales of past sets.
Much of the morning and afternoon was spent shooting
“chambara” action. Chambara is the term given by
Japanese to this type of film, the word being
onomatopoeic of the sound two swords make when
clashing against each other. And while Azumi 2
is set within a real historical frame, being derived
from a manga, it enjoys a slight exaggeration of the
styles of the period. This could be seen in the
designs of some of the ninja costumes. In
particular, one ninja features a striking black
metal face mask designed to resemble a crow.
Today also marked Chiaki Kuriyama's first day on the
set. Thus, the initial order of business was to
announce her presence to the production. Loud
applause ripped from the staff as the lovely Ms.
Kuriyama gave deep bows. From here, a
knife-brandishing Ms. Kuriyama slipped into her
character of Kozue.
The shoot wrapped at dusk, and was followed by a
dinner party with the main staff and cast. As
producer Mr. Yamamoto explained, "It’s important for
people to let their hair down every now and then
during a production so as to cast off tension and to
keep good feelings going." The infectious Mr.
Yamamoto even managed to break the normally cool
demeanor of Mr. Kaneko by giving the director a huge
hug for his hard work on Azumi 2. During the
evening, Ms. Kuriyama shared tales from the Kill
Bill set, while Ms. Ueto, despite being
presently ranked as one of the top ten female stars
in Japan, showed that deep down she’s just a
levelheaded young woman. And the twenty-one year old
Mr. Ishigaki impressed everyone with an incredible
knowledge of horror films, both western and
The last day of the SKIWS visit, 1 May 2004,
was another action packed one. One of the first
scenes up was of a wired Mr. Ishigaki leaping to a
second story balcony in order to protect Ms.
Kuriyama from the arrows of a killer ninja archer.
Mr. Ishigaki enjoyed his first experience at
wirework action despite being hoisted high into the
sky repeatedly as the staff worked out the mechanics
of the shot.
Azumi star Ms. Ueto was in top sword swinging
form as she defended herself from the day's ninja
onslaught. Between shots, Ms. Ueto was gracious,
easy going and ready to chat with anyone who cared.
As with most Japanese sets, the Azumi 2
production enjoys a very strong camaraderie and a
definite belief that every job no matter how small
is important to the success of the film.
Between shots, the samurai gang of Mr. Endo, Mr.
Oguri, Mr. Matsumoto, and Mr. Ito passed the time by
practicing sword and spear moves. Throughout the
shoot, despite the long hours, the actors remained
in high spirits, laughing it up during setups,
getting serious during takes, and basically just
enjoying the chance to add another chapter to the
long history of Japanese chambara movies.
Azumi 2 will wrap on or around June 10, 2004.
The completed film is set to play theaters in Japan
in the first quarter of 2005.
For a photographic look at the Shusuke Kaneko
Information Website's visit to the set of
Azumi 2, please click the arrow: