Original release: September 14th, 2001
Running time: 129 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Sakichi Satō
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Ōmori, Shinya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun
If I was tasked to pick the most memorable scene from Takashi Miike’s sadomasochistic gore-fest Ichi The Killer, I would be in trouble.
Which should I choose? The scene with Ichi (Nao Ōmori) slicing a man in half from head to groin? The torture scene with a crime boss hanging from the ceiling by hooks spiked through his skin? Or perhaps when Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) cuts off the tip of his own tongue? So many to choose from…
Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s ultra-violent manga series, Takashi Miike adapts this dark story from the underground world of yakuza to live-action cinema. This brings me to the question I kept asking myself while watching the film: Should Ichi The Killer be a live-action film in the first place? While Miike kept the visuals very stylistic, constantly reminding us the manga roots of the story, live-action has a profound effect on the story nevertheless.
With a fairly complex plot, the film revolves around two very unconventional arch-enemies and the ultimate showdown between them.
When crime lord Anjo is murdered and his body is removed without any trace, his sadomasochistic right-hand man Kakihara thinks he’s still alive and goes on a murderous investigation to find him. His opponent is a tormented young man named Ichi, who’s manipulated into becoming the perfect killer in order to play yakuza gangs against each other.
Ichi, in addition to having been bullied when he was a boy, had his memories tempered with by Jijii, the player behind the scenes trying to take advantage of the chaos he causes. As a result of his influence, Ichi’s a complete mental wreck who can no longer function normally as a person. He involuntarily ejaculates when seeing violence and breaks down crying when facing confrontation, only to become enraged in a sudden explosion of violence.
Nevertheless, Jijii’s able to keep him under control and uses Ichi as an assassin. In trying to find the mysterious killer rampaging through yakuza members – literally – Kakihara becomes fascinated by Ichi and begins to hope that this killer will be able to fulfil his masochistic desires to their full extent. For Kakihara, the confrontation between him and Ichi is a goal in itself; he has no real interest in the outcome either way. He will be sadistic or masochistic – a win-win situation for Kakihara.
There are issues like bullying in the film that would normally prompt me to think, but I didn’t. There’s violence against women, but then there’s also violence against men – no one is safe in Ichi The Killer.
Some have given credit to the film for pushing the boundaries of cinema and it surely does that. Ichi The Killer is the movie your friends will dare you to watch. Miike keeps the audience under pressure for much of the two hours of running time with what is best described as torture-porn. As the plot bounces back and forth between Ichi and Kakihara there’s never a minute of relief; although their motivations differ, at the end they are both extremely violent and disturbed characters. To be frank, so is everyone else.
As the film progressed into its second half, I realised that in a strange kind of way I was looking forward to everyone dying, because surely, if they are all dead the film will end.
With handing out vomit bags before screenings, the marketing for the film was clearly designed to look forward to some delicious outrage, but by the end of Ichi The Killer, I was merely exhausted. The film has the finger prints of a gifted filmmaker throughout, but the over-the-top violence is kept at a constant level from beginning to end.
This monotonous madness ended up wearing me out, however disgusting the torture scenes get with the live-action treatment. More than anything, Ichi The Killer is a dare for the competitive-minded who want to see how much they can take.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.