Geisha Assassin
Wellspring // Unrated // $19.98 // May 5, 2009
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted May 4, 2009
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The Film:

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Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood happens to be a personal favorite samurai picture of mine, even more so than the more highly-lauded Kill Bill that it drew inspiration from. Combining feminine grace with a gripping revenge story builds into a splendid mix, along with the added dash of pizazz with its striking cinematography. Geisha Assassin, aka Geisha vs. Ninjas, is like an excruciatingly low-budget spin on Lady Snowblood without the style, substance, or visual grace. Sadly, it makes the cheeky, uninvolving Japanese swordplay film Azumi look like a major success.

Though we've grown accustomed to martial arts films with minimal plot development since the Shaw Bros. era, Geisha Assassin takes that to a whole 'nother level. After watching main character Kotomo Yamabe (played fine enough by freshman actress Minami Tsukui) swirl around in a tradition dance to show that she is, in fact, a geisha, she throttles forward towards an older man -- one that we would soon learn is her arch-nemesis -- to engage in some rather random swordplay. No back story, just a crossing of blades in the middle of the night.

Get used to the lack of narrative, because there ain't a whole lot of development beyond the point when we learn that she wants revenge for her father's death. She's unsuccessful in doing everything but tearing up her umbrella the first time out, but then follows quickly behind to try again. The path won't be as easy the second time, though; she'll have to take on challenger after challenger -- mostly monks and, yes, ninja-like characters -- to progress towards her main villain in a final duel to the death.

Sounds a little like a video game, doesn't it? Well, director Go Ohara does have video game experience as a fighting analyst and choreographer for the rambunctious shoot-'em-up / martial arts hybrid "Devil May Cry 3". But he also worked on Death Trance as a choreographer, a like-minded film with infinitely more elaborate production value to that of Geisha Assassin. It shares similar problems to Death Trance -- stiff dialogue and wonky mise-en-scene -- which weakens the structure around its action-heavy framework. Never mind quixotic questions, like whether Kotomo Yamabe is a geisha, an assassin, or what not when she's not wreaking vengeance, because they'll go unanswered. Or simple questions, like why on earth a ninja removes her mask over and over to talk with the geisha, which also leaves a big ole' question mark above your head. It lends a goofy-as-hell air about the entire flick, one that's not quite entertaining enough to compensate for the ridiculousness.

There's really no other reason to watch Geisha Assassin except for the fight sequences -- which are generally engaging when they're not bouncing over into cartoon-level territory. When they're specifically one-on-one, which is frequent, they're extremely fast-paced and vigorous. Their styles seem a little over animated and unnatural, but they're attractive none the less. On the occasion where several ninjas come into the picture and our geisha has to fight all of them, Go Ohara does dive a little into Power Rangers land. Wire-fu gets spritzed into the mix here and there, but mostly the action stays on the ground and rapid enough to hold attention. Mostly.

Sadly, the action isn't anywhere near enough to back up Geisha Assassin's overall simplicity and goofy down time. It's a far cry from classic '70-80s kung fu, which essentially spells out that it'd be good enough as an aside to a bigger, better story. Here, all we've got is blitzed, humdrum fight choreography with zero narrative, which kind of tosses the potential behind a film originally entited Geisha vs. Ninjas to the wayside. Under this title, however, it's just confusing; the woman might be an assassin, though we never see her assassinate anybody before her string of battles, and she very well might be a tried-and-true geisha, though all we get is a dance at the start (along with a splash of flashbacks that support her "desire" to be one) followed by her quick removal of traditional garb to get battle ready.

Yeah, Geisha Assassin is a royal mess.

Video, Audio, Special Features:

As this is a special screening copy void of menus or supplements and sporting a large SAMPLE text over the top of the non-anamorphic image, DVDTalk is unable to cover the digital quality of the disc itself.

Final Thoughts:

Buy Lady Snowblood, rent Azumi, and just gloss over Geisha Assassin. You won't be missing anything if you simply Skip It and check out one of the alternatives.

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