Ichi the Killer review by Matt Fuerst


I don't regularly follow developments in the Asian Horror genre, but I hear a murmur or two occasionally. The biggest things to come down the pipe in the past few years are The Ring (Ringu), The Eye, Battle Royale, Audition and Ichi the Killer. Ichi director Takashi Miike is a very proliferate director, churning out at least 4 flicks a year, including the aforementioned Audition. I had heard that Ichi was one of the most violently bloody films captured to film, which is enough to earn my $4 rental. But did it live up to the hype?

The movie starts out with a hyper kinetic soundtrack pulsing, and the camera follows the beat of the score. Miike takes us into a local bar where a group of gangsters are holed up. We bounce from character to character during their conversation, the film pausing midsentence, camera traveling from speaker to speaker with a whoosh of activity. David Fincher loves to do tricks like this, but has never been so brazen and unashamed. The gang is waiting for their boss Anjo, who is upstairs having his way with a local prostitute. But upstairs, something entirely different is taking place. Ichi enters through the balcony and proceeds to butcher Anjo. Shortly thereafter, a group enters the room and cleans up the bloody mess Ichi left behind, to leave no clues as to what really happened to the gang leader. The gang visits upstairs in the morning to find Anjo, the girl, and 3 million yen all missing.

So begins the quest of Kakihara to find what happened to Anjo and "rescue" him. Kakihara is an interesting character, his face is scarred with cuts and burn marks. His cheeks have slits that allow him to puff cigarette smoke through them. Skinny, dressed elaborately, Kakihara proceeds to lead the gang through the Japanese underworld to find out whole (he thinks) kidnapped their leader, and what they can do to get him back. Along the way we begin to develop the story of Ichi. We see that Ichi lives with Jijii, who appears to be pulling Ichi's strings and manipulating him. You see, Ichi doesn't like bullies, it appears that he was a meager child, often bullied and Jijii plays on this resource. Through the underground Kakihara learns that there is an assassin that is intent on destroying the Anjo gang, and Kakihara himself.

sadism: a sexual perversion in which gratification is obtained by the infliction of physical or mental pain on others
masochism: a sexual perversion characterized by pleasure in being subjected to pain or humiliation especially by a love object

Director Miike certainly likes to pile heaps of both nouns on tops of piles of blood, intestines and bloodied boots. Kakihara's real reasoning for his intense drive to get Anjo back is that Anjo regularly viciously beats Kakihara, which Kakihara truly needs for his happiness. To attempt to satisfy this need, Kakihara ends up cutting off his own tongue and has Anjo's woman beat him while chained up. Unsatisfied with his inability to be beaten properly, Kakihara takes his aggression out in his search for Anjo, namely my deep frying a mans genitals and throwing long thick needles into peoples torsos. The Anjo gang is comprised mostly of sadomasochism fans, including a pair of police detectives that rip off a mans arm to see if it is possible and cut a man's penis in half with a pair of scissors.

There isn't much of a protagonist in the film however, the title character Ichi isn't much of a fine catch. Undoubtedly mentally unbalanced, Ichi was pushed over the edge when a girl that was trying to help him escape being bullied ended up being violated in front of him. Ichi didn't help, and in fact, wished he had taken part in beating of the girl himself. Jijii uses this against Ichi, constantly engaging Ichi to kill more and more members of the Anjo gang.

The Ichi story is a fairly complex and layered one. There are a lot of characters that come to the forefront and get development time, and all the characters are developed fairly well. In addition, the plot lines jump around pretty mercilessly. It is often pretty easy to get lost along the ride with exactly whom is backstabbing whom at any given moment. The centerpiece of the film is the brutality, the blood, the indifference for life. And truthfully, it wasn't as entertaining as I was hoping for. The high water mark for unadulterated bloodshed for me is the Peter Jackson combo of Bad Taste and Dead Alive, and I think both are pretty safe in comparison to Ichi. Ichi undoubtedly takes the cake in terms of pulling no punches in terms of hate (one detective is killed by Ichi, the other remarks "I was really looking forward to killing him myself.") but I don't find that nearly as entertaining as a fun amount of bloodspill.

There are 2 Region 1 DVD releases of Ichi, one is unrated and has more of the red stuff spilling. Both feature the original Japanese voicetrack, along with an English dubbing. I listened to the English dub, and while most of the characters had definite British accents (which really isn't any odder than them having a midwestern or southern US accent when you think about it, did strike me as odd) the dub is very good, not distracting at all. The print is a little fuzzy and dark, but I doubt Ichi was filmed with as high quality stock as your traditional Hollywood blockbuster. The film is letterboxed at 1.85:1. A very reasonable DVD release that won't knock your socks off, but presents the material.

Director Miike starts the movie out with a stylistic highnote, but even as I was watching it I was dreading the thought that he might be pulling a "Blade" - a great beginning followed by a return to more generic filmmaking, which does happen. The Asian Horror genre typically tries to be a metaphor for Asian society; I have to admit I am not certain what Miike is trying to say with Ichi. Maybe indifference is at an all time high. But doesn't every generation think that their generation is the most outrageous, most disconnected ever? We're not exactly breaking new ground with that idea. Regardless, I have to admit a twinge of disappointment with Ichi as a whole, which makes me 0 for 2 with my recent foray into Japanese film after the disappointing Princess Mononoke. I'm going to go back into my domestic hole and stick with the schlock that Hollywood wants me to watch for a while.

3 out of 10 Jackasses
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