Marking its world premiere this past Tuesday (February 8, 2005), Azumi 2: Death or Love screened at the Roppongi Hills's Virgin Toho Cinemas in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. Giving the film a grand sendoff were director Shusuke Kaneko and Azumi alumni Aya Ueto, Yuma Ishigaki and Shun Oguri.

The show was heavily attended by the Japanese press. Magazine and newspaper reporters crowded in front of and to the sides of the stage, with the back row of the theater a string of TV cameras. The capacity audience was a mix of industry people and general moviegoers, who had won tickets through promotional giveaways.

Prior to the screening, short speeches were delivered by the cast and director. Nineteen-year old Azumi lead Aya Ueto started things off by wowing the audience with a dazzling kimono and new hairstyle. Costars Yuma Ishigaki and Shun Oguri expressed their pleasure in returning to the now budding series — despite the fact that both had been killed off in the first Azumi! Not to be outdone by Ms. Ueto, the two male leads wore flashy kimono that reflected the manga influenced, hyper-reality of the Azumi universe.

Director Shusuke Kaneko added his thoughts on the evening and the production. A long time fan of jidai-geki (Japanese period films), Mr. Kaneko noted his pleasure in breaking into this cinematic territory with Azumi 2. As with his giant monster films, Mr. Kaneko has infused Azumi 2 with as much real flavor of its bygone setting in order to give the film a fantasy world within the real world feel.

Excerpts from Speeches:

"People ask me if Azumi has finally grown up. I never thought of it like this when making the new film. In Azumi 2, Azumi suffers a lot. In this way, she seems more adult. Azumi 2 is very different from the first. We had a new director and staff. I felt we were making a whole different movie. So, please enjoy the Azumi world and the Kaneko world!"
"I'm playing Nagara again — and it's great! The difference between the first and now? Nothing! It's the same to me. My theme when acting in this was to keep a level of tension identical to the first film and to carry over the atmosphere of Azumi into Azumi 2."
"To be honest, I was a little confused. Am I Ginkaku or Nachi? I felt that though Ginkaku inherited his personality from Nachi, I should not play the part as I did when playing Nachi in the first Azumi — because he died!"
"As my first jidai-geki movie, I was a little nervous. But with the help of an excellent cast and crew, I was able to make not only a film with intense battle scenes, but I could fill the movie with plenty of human emotion. Please enjoy Azumi 2 from its first to last frame!"

Following the screening, a private party to celebrate the premiere of Azumi 2 was held at one of the restaurants within the massive Roppongi Hills complex. Producer Mata Yamamoto gave a booming greeting and a wish for not only Azumi 2 to hit big at the box-office, but for the night's celebration to be just as big a hit. Things lasted well into the evening, with cast, staff and well-wishers mixing freely. Also in attendance was original Azumi director Ryuhei Kitamura and many executives from Toho Motion Pictures, inc.

During the course of the night, director Shusuke Kaneko took the time to express his thoughts on the experience of making Azumi 2 for readers of The Shusuke Kaneko Information Website:

"Coming into a series not of your own creation is no easy task for a director. The world and style of Azumi were first brought to the screen by filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura. And he did so with flare and a keen eye for action. When approaching Azumi 2, I knew that I didn't want to try to imitate Mr. Kitamura's style. We are different kinds of filmmakers.

For Azumi 2, I have taken the character of Azumi and brought her feelings and heart to the foreground. Yes, she is a killer — a child raised to be a killing machine — but she is still a woman and she has a very human heart. I believe this approach to be important for movies that feature woman as the central character.

Working with Azumi star Aya Ueto was very enjoyable. She is a solid, professional actress. Aya is interesting in that while a good girl deep down, she also has a mischievous side to her personality. I came to discover that this was one of her strong points and is what enables her to play Azumi convincingly. She can take up a sword and let this part of her personality take over. Yet, once she puts it down, and has replaced the sword with her cell-phone, she is hardly different from any of the girls you'd find in Shibuya or Aoyama.

Sometimes Aya understood Azumi's heart more than I did! For example, early on in the production she brought to my attention that Azumi is not a big talker. So, we went through the script, discussed her lines and together made many cuts. Aya is very clever in this way. Still at the end of the day, she would run up and give me a “bye-bye!” in a very ordinary way.

Azumi 2 is my first venture into the jidai-geki genre, and I learned much. Mostly, I learned that they are not as simple to make as they appear. Preparation is much longer than on a conventional film — period clothes and wigs have to be made, and finding locations without modern touches is time consuming. Even in Kyoto, it is difficult to find locations that don't show signs of today's environment.

I very much enjoyed making Azumi 2 and am planning to return to the jidai-geki genre in the near future. Japanese history has always been a passion and I hope to explore it professionally and to give modern audiences a taste of how Japan was during this colorful period."

Azumi 2: Death or Love opens nationwide in Japan on Saturday, March 12, 2005. The Shusuke Kaneko Information Website will be giving away ten press pamphlets signed by the director. Eligible only to readers outside Japan, send an email with mailing information to Winners will be chosen at random on March 11 and announced on the website on the following day, the film's opening day (unless stipulated in your entry against this, where the winner will then be listed as "anonymous"). Be sure to mark the header, "Azumi 2 Pamphlet Giveaway".

For a photographic look at the Azumi 2 premiere, please click on arrow:

For a peek at last year's set of Azumi 2, please click on arrow: