Sweet bleeding hell. There’s no other way to describe Ichi the Killer, a piece of work that’s been praised by gorehounds, sadists, masochists, and experimental enthusiasts alike. It’s a film that takes me and assaults my senses to such a degree that I wanna ask for more — but I’m still left wondering what the hell just happened.
Three million yen and a Yakuza boss named Anjo have gone missing. Naturally, there’s a wave of upset rolls through the ranks of the underworld. The boys all want to know if their fearless leader is still alive, especially Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano). He needs Anjo most of all; no one else has been able to induce such pain and pleasure for him, until he hears the legend of a man named Ichi (Nao Omori). Renown for his nasty ways of killing people, Ichi is too good a target for Kakihara to pass up — and when a guy like Kakihara sets his mind on something, not even his comrades will stand in his way.
I haven’t seen much of Takashi Miike’s work. Ichi the Killer is only the third of his I’ve caught, but it’ll probably remain the most memorable. Anyone that takes on this monster will find its layers either darkly appealing or utterly repulsive. Ichi takes the form of an animal stalking its prey from the beginning, and once the hunt begins, we have little time to catch our breath. Even as we’re introduced to Kakihara, the tension stacks bricks on our chest; how much you can hold will determine how much of a relief the credits will bring. I can’t stress enough how unforgiving this film can be.
The plot is something that will grab many interests. The cast of characters is one crazy bunch, their weirdness reflecting off one another as each one blooms. There are occasions when it’s easy for viewers to feel confused, as I was from time to time, but committing one’s full attention is all that Miike asks. The story unfolds slowly, and so much of the film is comprised of Kakihara’s “interrogation” techniques, you’ll wonder if it’s all just an exercise in violence (as I imagine the life of a Yakuza would include). Amidst the nastiness, the plot keeps shifting gears and giving us more than we bargained for. Perspectives constantly change, and we’re never certain about anything — except that everyone is fuck-crazy. Even when we think we have a hold on things, it usually turns out that Miike is screwing with us.
Kakihara is the star of the show and well earns his keep. I’d watch him in another movie with no questions asked. The masochistic mofo has a way of working under our skin that works like gangbusters. Besides, there are no “good guys” to root for, so Kakihara’s more than enough to get behind. Ichi, meanwhile, is a whole other story. We’re introduced to him about a quarter of the way in, following him through the shadows as he goes about his grisly business. His history unfolds slowly, and we never know whether to pity or hate the guy. Then there are those like the mysterious Jiji (Shinya Tsukamoto), whom we’ll never understand in a million years.
Despite my praise, Ichi the Killer still isn’t a perfect film. Its underlying flaws have much to do with its use of gore and depraved sexuality, which may be too much for even the strongest of stomachs. The pacing could’ve used some work, as well; Miike could’ve chopped twenty minutes out of this, doing away with a lot of the torture sequences that just waste space and churn guts.
By the time we reach the end, the world of Ichi the Killer has become so twisted, all we can do is sit back and ruminate on what has happened (and, more importantly, on what is real). There is something here, but Miike refuses to spoon-feed it to us, a notion I appreciate. If you have an appetite for the odd and don’t mind boatloads of blood ‘n’ sadism, then Ichi the Killer is a dish best served raw.
Read Andrew Guarini’s Ichi the Killer review here.