Next week, this film gets its high def treatment for the first time by hitting the shelves on blu-ray format. Ichi the Killer solidified Takashi Miike‘s status as the go-to guy for Japan Cinema that relies on stylistic violence, gore, and over-the-top yakuza stereotypes. For a long time, I had heard about what a terrifically screwed up movie it was, but I had never had the opportunity to see for myself. More importantly, though, I knew after seeing it that I would be doing a review about it on this blog. Even by Miike’s standards of excess, ‘Ichi the Killer’ is not for the faint-hearted, with its frequent scenes of torture, dismemberment, rape and body horror.
The story of Ichi the Killer revolves around the Anjo Gang. It seems that Boss Anjo, who was last seen entering a hotel room for some “alone time” with one of his girls, has turned up missing. Not only that, but 300 million yen is missing with him. The other yakuza in the syndicate just assume he stole the money and ran off with the girl. Ichi then enters, who is a fragile-minded guy a charcter named Jijii has been using as a hitman. He’s no normal hitman, however, and has to be carefully manipulated into doing anything. Jijii managed to plant false memories in Ichi’s head through hypnosis convincing him that he was bullied throughout high school and the only girl who ever protected him was gang-raped right in front of him while he just stood there powerless to do anything about it. I guess you can see where this is going. The two sides of the coin link up and alot of violence and torture insue. Horray!
Yet tempting as it is to dismiss the film as little more than a stylish compendium of ultraviolent sensationalism made with Miike’s characteristic verve, this would be to ignore the film’s high level of sophistication and the incredible intellectual demands which it makes on viewers. It would have been really easy for most actors, upon reading the script for Ichi the Killer, to decide to play Kakihara with campy exuberance. Surely a sadomasochistic yakuza hitman who dresses like The Joker from Batman would be pretty excitable. Asano is not most actors, however, and plays the role with a scarily calm demeanor.
Unlike Kakihara, the role of Ichi had to be played over the top, and Nao Omori was up to the task. This film is a slick, fast-paced yakuza flick with a heavy dose of the absurd and a heavier dose of the grotesque. It is a furious, frantic and at times very funny piece of bravura filmmaking. Sure you’ll go in anticipating the violence but there really is more to it then that. I’ll let you be the deciding factor to judge that, all I can do is give this film a thumbs up. Recommended.