Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001)

Initially I was only going to do a blurb on this film as part of tomorrow's post. I watched the first hour on Monday, and the rest last night. The remainder changed my mind. I hope to include no spoilers, as there is a mystery aspect to this film.

Ichi the Killer is a bizarre mobster/superhero movie from Japan. Takashi Miike is a favorite of Quentin Tarantino, and I am guessing the reverse is true. The film has definite Tarantino qualities while still obeying the rules of Japanese Torture Porn. This is not a film for the squeamish.

The film revolves around the Anjo gang, a family in the Yakuza Syndicate. Their boss goes missing, and his second in command, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano, pictured above right) is determined to find him. Eventually finds he is dead. He discovers Ichi (Nao Omori) is responsible, but no one knows who this assassin is.

The story is remarkably complex for the genre. It falls in line with its counterarts as Ichi's motivation is revenge (similar to tomorrow's Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl), as is Kakihara's. Ichi's is against bullies like those who made him the way he is, and Kakihara's against Ichi. It is a circle of vengeance which I hope is meant to carry the moral that revenge is never complete and violence only begets more violence. The overall story is, however, more complicated than this. We learn early on that Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto) is playing rival Yakuza gangs against each other, much like Yojimbo or A Fistful of Dollars. Jijii's motivation is unclear, but it seems Kakihara is his target, or maybe he has no target. Maybe he is like The Joker from The Dark Knight, and only wants to see the world burn?

As the gore goes, it can get quite strong, but is almost comical in its unrealistic portrayal. Buckets of blood are thrown into scenes and sprayed from dismembered torsos in a manner that looks like an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. The more horrific parts are less gory, but of a more disturbing nature. I hid my eyes a few times, a bit too late unfortunately.

The acting and directing here is quite nice. Like Tarantino's gangsters from Pulp Fiction, we see the bad guys from a different angle. Kakihara is a weirdo who enjoys pain and dresses like a hipster pimp. The other bosses are often petty and obnoxious rather than a bunch of Tony Sopranos. Paulyn Sun (right), who plays Karen, a rival boss' moll, gets a lot of interesting action as well as the only English lines in the film. I am not one to fetishize Asian women, but she brings a lot of hotness, combined with tough and crazy.

Ichi the Killer is definitely not for everyone. The aforementioned gore is paired with a lot of disturbing activity, and as is typical in these films, a portion of misogyny. If you could stomach Saw you can probably handle this one. Frankly, I think it would have been a better film in many ways if it just stood on its story. The gore is mostly for shock value alone, and you can make people seem dastardly without gratuitous violence. It is, however, part and parcel for the genre. I think in this case the story transcends the genre, much as Silence of the Lambs is a slasher flick that is more than a slasher flick.

I am interested, if anyone wants to comment, how Ichi as a character is similar to Jet Li's "Danny" in Unleashed? I have not seen that film yet, but I get the feeling there are some definite parallels.

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