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Monday, April 26, 2010

GEISHA ASSASSIN -- DVD review by porfle

If you like plenty of furious swordfights and other assorted mayhem without a lot of story getting in the way, then GEISHA ASSASSIN, aka Geisha vs. ninja (2008), should keep you happy for awhile.

The film follows a simple path all the way to the end, with few variations or surprises. Mysterious geisha Kotomi (Minami Tsukui) wants revenge on samurai Katagiri Hyo-e (Shigeru Kanai) for killing her father. But to get to him, she must chop her way through a series of opponents who get harder to defeat as she goes along. In this way, the film reminded me of a videogame where the difficulty level keeps increasing till you reach the final challenge.

We get to see Kotomi in full geisha mode during a lovely title sequence, after which she begins to stalk a seemingly blase' Hyo-e at a secluded house in the country. He tells her to check back with him if she survives his gauntlet of bodyguards and disappears for the rest of the movie. Thus begins the episodic series of bloody encounters.

Nobody takes Kotomi seriously at first--their mistake--until she's sliced and diced her way across the rural countryside leaving sushified samurais and ninja nuggets in her wake. Meanwhile, we're teased with bits of Kotomi's backstory along the way--as a little girl, her samurai father insists on training her as a warrior while she practices to be a geisha behind his back--until finally the whole secret behind her quest for revenge is revealed.

Two things make all of this worth watching--Gô Ohara's stylish direction, some really nice low-budget cinematography, and the consistently entertaining fight scenes. Okay, three things. The film is deliberately paced and takes its time establishing the atmosphere and mood of each scene, displaying what appears to be a Sergio Leone influence in the lead-up to some of the swordfights, which are all well-staged.

Kotomi's clash with the Ainu woman (Kaori Sakai) begins with several long closeups of their determined faces as they square off in silence, gently pelted by a sudden rain shower. (Their bout degenerates into a cool bare-knuckle catfight.) The final face-off is a bit reminiscent of the final gunfights in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

Some cartoonishly wacky wirework makes an appearance when Kotomi goes up against three ninjas who have the ability to swoop around like Peter Pan on pep pills. A ninja woman (Nao Nagasawa) then steps in for a rather elegant session that features some impressive sword-soccer. Next up is a 7" tall Lurch-like monk (Satoshi Hakuzen) who looks like he could swallow Kotomi in one gulp, in a one-sided fight that would stretch our credulity like taffy if the movie weren't already so over the top.

Best of all, however, is the appearance of a really weird old man (Shuji Korimoto) with the useful ability to turn into an army of grotesque demons who can remove their heads and launch them at our heroine like hairy bowling balls. This sequence is pretty spooky and is one of the film's many stylistic shifts which suit each phase of Kotomi's ordeal.

The DVD from Well Go USA, Inc. and Jolly Roger is in 2.35.1 widescreen with a Dolby 2.0 Japanese-language soundtrack and English subtitles. The original trailer is included.

Clocking in at a brisk 79 minutes, GEISHA ASSASSIN is filled with ultra-frenetic swordfights that are beautifully and very convincingly choreographed, with lots of long takes that demonstrate much skill and careful rehearsal on the part of the actors. Couple this with Gô Ohara's imaginative direction and pretty Minami Tsukui's energetic lead performance and you've got a fun little film that's short on substance but long on pleasing visuals and rousing action.

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