Takashi Miike has been making some of the most weirdly entertaining films of the last decade. Between Ichi the Killer and the overtly taboo Visitor Q, one would think that all the corpse-sodomizing and S&M would have drained his artistic abilities. But 2004’s Izo is yet another staple of Miike’s string of mind-scratching motion pictures. While it carries much of what the man’s fans have come to expect, viewers will find themselves divided into factions of either the satisfied or sorely let down.
Okada Izo (Kazuya Nakayama) was a ruthless swordsman in 1865, thought by many to be more devil than man. His ways were considered inhumane, as he spared not a soul that intended to do him in. Ultimately, the Shogunate had him killed, crucified, and repeatedly speared through the sides — but Izo refuses to fall so easily. His unquenchable thirst for blood and revenge rekindles his spirit, resurrecting the fallen warrior and setting him on a violent path to retribution by cutting through today’s aristocratic a-holes.
Sadly (or happily, depending on your preference), Izo isn’t as simple as it sounds. The film begins with Izo’s execution, getting the blood pumping rather quickly. From here on, Miike hurtles us back and forth through time; we’re in a modern era some moments, and other times, we’re back in the 1800s. Sometimes we’re on earth, and sometimes we’re in a parallel dimension. But what’ll piss off some and please others is that Miike isn’t too keen on telling us exactly where we’ll be taken next. Izo’s spontaneous time trips have viewers rag dolling alongside him, an uncomfortable jerking that one must grow accustomed to in order to make it to the credits. The one consistency is that every setting harbors enemies for Izo to destroy. At its heart, Izo is an action flick, which Miike embraces all the way.
But get used to not knowing Izo’s characters, most of whom don’t stay alive much longer than five minutes. Save for a select few, most we meet are of the “I, *state your name*, am here to kill you!” school. Even the classic girly main villain (assuming he’s a villain) is flatter than a pancake. Those that do live until the end (mainly the bad guy council and an irritating acoustic guitarist) sit around constantly surprised that Izo is so ticked off. The character of Izo is given an interesting edge, but it’s barely worth it, just for a vaguely unique perspective on a guy that screams too much.
Izo is stomach-churning, though not how you’d expect it to be. The blast-off pacing might turn a lot of viewers off, and the constant screaming only adds to the headache once Miike kicks into Blair Witch mode for the action sequences. As interesting as Izo can be, the lack of substance over style and thrills makes it easy to want to give up (though you could argue this is to show Izo’s struggle to figure out what to do beyond killing everyone in sight).
Izo is a tough flick to critique. Those who’ve enjoyed what the likes of Versus had to offer may find some love for this, what with the nonstop action. Those looking for an interesting story will be lost in the Pacific, because beyond what you flat-out see, there’s not much else, boiling Izo down to either art or irritation.
Check out the Izo trailer here.