Isn’t violence fun? I mean, watching it. Getting beat up ain’t that much fun. Unless you’re Kakihara the lead character in Ichi The Killer. He loves a bit of pain and he’s considerate because he enjoys giving and receiving. He’s the guy in the photo up there blowing smoke out of some gills he made himself. It’s the latest look for piecing and body modification enthusiats I hear. Anyway, here’s my review of Ichi The Killer.
Ichi The Killer follows a fabulously dressed high ranking Yakuza called Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) who’s trying to find out just what has happened to his boss Anjo. Kakihara believes he is still alive and will do anything to find him. This is partly because he has faith in his boss but mostly because he get’s off by getting beaten up by Anjo. Most of the Anjo family believe he has ran away with a prostitute and taken ¥3million with him. Truth is he has been slaughtered by a man named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) who is part of a plot to get revenge on the Anjo family by a man named Jijii (Shin’ya Tsukamoto) and a small group of ex-Yakuza he has under his employ. Jijii has conditioned a mentally fragile Ichi to be a killing machine and has been feeding him, and the Yakuza, lies in order for his plan to play out.
This is a film that marches to it’s own violent and sadistic beat. Not many scenes go by without either the subject or an act of sadism being carried out. Being hung from meat hooks while getting boiling fat poured on your back seems to be par for the course if you happen to get in Kakihara’s way. Both Kakihara and Ichi have their issues but while the former truly enjoys dishing out pain in increasingly creative ways Ichi is more of an unwilling sadist. He gets off on the anticipation of the act of violence but feels as though it’s wrong. When I say gets off on it I mean literally. For starters the main title rises out of his spunk. Subtle this film is not.
The nature of these two characters sadistic desires is explored throughout the film but that’s not to say that’s all that is going on. Ichi himself is a multi-layered and very confused character. He’s naive, depressed but also a force of raw killing power. He’s exceptionally good at killing but it is not something he likes to do. He has been conditioned to feel bad about feeling good which obviously conflicts with the raging boners he gets whenever someones about to get sliced. Side characters can be anything from a former cop who’s ended up in the Yakuza out of desperation to a Yakuza boss that has an oddly weak stomach for his chosen profession. Mostly though the characters seem to display some level of sadistic obsession.
Visually the film is pure comic book/manga. Everything is exaggerated in some way be it the colour tone, the personalities or a spraying of arterial blood. Director Takashi Miike has really tried hard to make sure that this looks and feels like a manga. It couldn’t really work without the stylisation unless something was toned down drastically. Ichi The Killer is all the better for it. Worthy of note too is the music which is provided by everyone’s favorite avant garde Japanese purveyors of weirdness Boredoms. The soundtrack is a constantly bizarre mix of beats and sounds, sometimes as simple as a drop of water, that play out in time with every action on screen. One sequence at the end shows a nice synergy between music and film as the images of Kakihara and Ichi are sped up and slowed down in time with the shifts in music.
It’s easy to write off this film as a messed up piece of gore and exploitation. Trouble is there’s so many subtleties and elements of character that can be read into that it genuinely does elevate it above other such violent movies. Watch how Kakihara looks at Kaneko, the cop that lost his gun mentioned earlier, as Boss Anjo is deciding if they should bring him in. It shows Kakihara’s worry that the boss is choosing a new favorite, which would get in the way of his personal beat down times with Anjo, without him coming out and saying it. There’s moments of impressionistic imagery too, particularly at the end, which is unusual for your average Yakuza themed movie.
Ichi The Killer is not a film for people easily offended or the weak of stomach. Easily one of the most violent movies around there’s many scenes where someone is getting on the wrong end of Ichi’s bladed boots. People get cut in half, have an arm torn off and in one scene likely to upset light-hearted a prostitute has a nipple sliced off. I wouldn’t recommend this film to everyone. It’s certainly not for your Gran. If you enjoy violent, slightly arty movies, the Ichi may well be for you. If you’re a fan or Miike’s other extreme works then chances are you’ve already seen this. If not get a copy, and try to make it one of the less butchered (ho ho) versions out there.