Izo review by The Grim Ringler

If youre crazy, or optimistic, you will try to explain what a Takashi Miike film is about. Sure, there are movies like Audition in his resume, movies that are straightforward narratives that are easy to follow, but for every movie that makes sense there is one that leaves you scratching your head in wonder. Hes an exceptionally talented filmmaker but he just makes too damn many movies. He needs to slow down and pick projects that either make sense dammit, or that are just pure fun so you dont care if you are confused. And when it comes to his latest, Izo, you have another of the head scratchers, and one that was a real letdown.

Izo is the name of a man who has taken it upon himself to be the personification of divine retribution. Confused, as a mortal man, as to what he was and what he was meant to be, his master tells him that he is to be an efficient killer. That is his what he was created for. This message sinks deeply into the mind of Izo and a killer he becomes, though he doesnt realize what that means until it is too late. Long after his death he has become a monster, a demon, a man that has returned from the dead to face down the ghosts of his past and to cut a path all the way to the power centers of Japan and to the highest powers of all. Facing ex-lovers, former victims, religious leaders, military leaders, the Yakuza, and a hundred other foes along the way, Izo is relentless in his rage and violence, changing from a man into a demon, as his sword tastes more and more blood. And so they fall, each enemy before Izo, their weapons and own rage at this killing machine falling flaccid against him, and inch by inch he moves closer to those he pursues. The religious leaders demand he stop and he urinates on them and mocks their god. The street villains send their warriors with warnings to turn back and they too fall. And so it goes with all that oppose his will. He is a force of chaos it is said, a natural occurrence that appears every so often to mete out wrath and to even the scales of power. But what is he? Even he doesnt know, wrapping himself in the illusion of divine retribution as he pushes onward, all traces of his own humanity falling away as he covers the ground in blood. But even the will of such as Izo can be opposed, so when he gets to the final link in the chain, the most powerful one of all, he has to decide whether or not this is truly what he was made to do, and what the purpose really is.

I do not lie when I say I really had to reach to come up with all that. There is a point to the film, there is a message, but dammit, it was lost on my dear friend Oktober and me when we were watching. The hell of it is that there are long, strange musical sequences in which an Asian troubadour, placed in the middle of the killing fields, will begin to croon and at one point for about ten minutes about something as images of war and horror flash upon the screen and none of this is subbed, at least on the bootleg we saw. So maybe there is a version out there somewhere that makes sense, and shows that this is a deep, thoughtful film and Miikes best yet. Sadly, we didnt get to see that version. So what we get is an insanely violent film (great gods is this violent. The damned film starts with a martyr on a cross being brutally impaled over and over again while vast gouts of blood spill forth. Yikes!) that seems to be about the blind rage mankind has within itself that can become untethered at times. It is a fairy tale about cleansing the world of the real monsters the political and religious villainy that seem to rule each and every one of us. Yet, much of that is lost within the confusing cuts of the film. The film will go from medieval Japan to modern, to eighties, to WWII, and its hard to figure what the common thread in all these worlds is.

It is a beautifully made film. Shot and edited well, this is another testament to the skill of Miike. There is one sequence in which Izo fights another man in a vast field and the film takes on the look, feel, and shot choice of an old samurai movie. And my god, there are a couple sequences that are filmed in this gorgeous field of flowers that is simply breathtaking. Butthe story. Ack. And then you have the talented actor/director Beat Takashi and hes all but wasted. He is in the film for no more than ten minutes, as a servant of the dark forces, and doesnt do much more than speechify about the nature of Izo. And thats it. Thats like getting Meryl Streep to fart in a Farrelly brothers film. Ok, not that bad, but dammit its a funny idea. But thats the nature of Miike, you never quite know if hes playing you straight or that the laugh is on you.

Many will love this films audacious nature sex with the mother of humanity? A woman pulling a sword from her crotch? Halving your own mother with your sword? Yipes! but to me it was cover for a story that wasnt there. Again, I warn that the version we saw was not properly subbed, at least, it felt like we were missing a lot though again, the trickster nature of this director is frustrating a lot of times but from what I could see, this was just a beautifully violent mess. I know lots will love this, me, it made my brain hurt. Not sure if it will make the states but I am sure you can import it pretty soon.


5 out of 10 Jackasses
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