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STUDIO: Shochiku
MSRP: $21.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes

  • Making of Ashura
  • Video Effects of Ashura
  • Interactive Program Notes
  • Original Theatrical Trailers

The Pitch

Blade meets My Demon Lover meets
William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

The Humans

Somegro Ichikawa, Rie Miyazawa, Kanako Higuchi, Atsuro Watabe, Takashi Naito, Erika Sawajiri

The Nutshell

Blade goes to Japan

The Lowdown

In the mystical ancient land of Edo, a group of samurai-style badasses known as “Demon Wardens” stalk the land searching for the demons that plague the countryside. During the Blade-esque introductory village massacre sequence that opens Ashura, ace demon killer Izumo mistakenly slays a young girl whom he thinks is a demon; shaken by his actions, Izumo hangs up his green blood-stained blades and becomes a star kabuki actor. His kabuki plays, which are dramatized re-creations of his Demon Warden adventures, play to packed houses.

Ashura No.1
Blade of Dorkiness.

A few years go by, and Izumo is happy with his new life. However, the demon queen Ashura is stirring and is about to arrive on Edo, bringing fiery death and destruction with her. The remaining Demon Wardens –including Jacku, Izumo’s cocky rival – want to prevent this, and are chasing after a mysterious young woman with strange powers who seems to have a pre-destined link to Izumo.

Ashura 2
GWAR’s most ambitious project yet.

Could this young lady actually be….nahh. No way. Impossible.

Forced to come out of retirement to protect his new best friend, Izumo finds himself battling more demons and his old Demon Warden buddies while he tries to destroy Ashura. Meanwhile, the playwright who writes Izumo’s plays jots down everything he sees for posterity’s sake.

Ashura 3
Wacko Jacku.

That’s the plot of Ashura, a movie based on a play. Ashura is a lively, colorful film with elements of action, horror, comedy, betrayal, sacrifice, destiny, redemption, and doomed romance all rolled up in one package. Throw in plenty of swordplay and imaginative, over-the-top visual effects, and there’s your movie. There’s a lot going on in Ashura but it all holds together, more or less.

Ashura 4
"I’m gonna shove my load into you whether you like it or not!"

As you can tell, Ashura‘s not a boring movie; it holds your interest to the final credits, which features Sting and Herbie Hancock teaming up on the song My Funny Valentine. But at the same time, it’s a hard film to really get into. Ashura seems to keep the viewer at arm’s length throughout, never allowing total audience involvement. This may have something to do with the film’s overall tone: camp mixed with corn. Ashura just can’t be taken seriously: nearly every single scene is played over-the-top, with loads of mugging, funny faces, and eyeball-rolling all over the place. Fight scenes that are supposed to dramatic and exciting are undermined by the combatants making silly faces at each other. To be fair, this might have something to with the movie seeming to imply that the non-kabuki sequences are actually scenes from Izumo’s plays, but the film-makers are vague on this point. If they are, it would certainly explain much of Ashura‘s hamminess.

Ashura 5
"Help! Police! I’ve just been mugged!"

But maybe being ridiculous is the whole point of the movie? Who knows.

Ashura is also a movie that mostly lacks flair, as hard as that is to believe. While the action scenes are numerous and well-staged, they come up a little short in the excitement and imagination departments, although a late-movie battle where Izumo makes his way through a Escher-esque maze slashing demons is cool and nicely done, showing off some solid effects work. Other sequences, like one where Ashura’s floating upside-down palace descends from the clouds and bathes the city below in fire, are kind of arresting. If only there were more scenes like that.

There are worse things you can do for two hours than watch Ashura. But at the same time, the movie is underwhelming and overbaked.

Ashura 6
Bowling For Demons.

The Package

Ashura comes with a second disc of extra features, with the usual assortment of talking head behind-the-scenes stuff that looks at various aspects of the making of the movie taking up the bulk of the time.

There are also some production notes, images and artwork from the movie, and a few Ashura trailers. All of the extras are competent, in a “watch them once and forget about them” way.

Ashura 7
"I know this defies the law of gravity, but I never studied law!"

Ashura is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen format, and the image quality is pretty good, with everything being clear and easy to make out.

Ashura 8
Cities on flame with wock & woll.

Ashura‘s audio is present and accounted for, with English Dolby Digital Surround 5.1, English Dolby 2.0, and Japanese Dolby 2.0 tracks to choose from. Since only crazy people watch dubbed movies, you’ll probably want to watch the Japanese version with your choice of two English subtitling options: Literal or Simplified. The sound gets the job done.

6 out of 10