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Ichi The Killer (2001)
Director: Takashi Miike

review by Paul Higson

Cinematic sadism may have been keeping the Japanese peace for four decades but was it ever offered in an overlong morally void package as this? And the live-action of the two in this Ichi The Killer boxset was longer by three minutes and 15 seconds originally, the BBFC demanding "Cuts... to scenes of mutilated, raped or savagely beaten women or of sexual pleasure from violence." As the film concerns the playing off of the ultimate sadist against the perfect masochist with no ordinary interloper to root for, how is it any of this film got either a theatrical or video release? Two hours is a still gruellingly vicious haul.

The claimed animated 'feature' version of Ichi The Killer (2002) is barely that, as it is only the last unnecessarily long six minutes of credits that bump it up to the constituted feature length. Though chronologically coming after the live action film, it acts as a prequel. Both are adapted from Hideo Yamamoto's manga Koroshiya 1, the scripts for both live version and anime set upon by Sakichi Sato. A crashing, cacophonous and exciting hardcore score forces through some lazy animation (voice cast: Takashi Miike, Sayaka Dohara, Chihiro Suzuki) depicting a bit of the Ichi versus Kakihara showdown before flashbacking to the origination of Ichi's perversion and his violent outpourings. Bullied at school, stifled at home, a combination of his overhearing his parents vicious bondage sessions contrasted with their otherwise pushy normality, the daily bike-shed beatings and the blackmail by a separate boy who at the same time insists on using the language of friendship, results in the confused Ichi having erections during the biology class' frog dissection and with certain inevitability, so the makers must convince us, ultra-violent retribution on his tormenters, hard in with a hard-on. Unstoppable then, he slays his parents with a baseball bat triggered by the fear of their interrogating him about some lifted money. It is following these episodes and a period of incarceration that he is under probation to a character who will later be revealed to be Jijii, who unwisely allows Ichi to join a karate club. There he meets the girl, Midori, who recognises his kicking power and invites him to a love hotel to mete some of that sexual aggression out on her, which she appears unnaturally capable of taking. Midori is Jijii's #3, it turns out, and she calls in the cleanup crew after Ichi mashes three street thugs who crowd him in the park. The animation is a hastily knocked up excusatory clause for the excesses of the live-action film, though it is no slacker for the lurid and the nasty in itself.

The live-action Ichi The Killer is a brash, non-stop creative slaughter with the disappearance of cruel yakuza gang boss Anjo, causing friction amongst the rival groups, with the supreme sadomasochist Kakihara taking things into his own excited hands. Kakihara is portrayed by Tadanobu Asano, a hip young actor (more recently seen in Distance in UK cinemas) with a modelling career and a recording contract, of whom Takashi Miike bemuses himself in the extras interview by ignoring his extensive film and television credits and reducing his discussion of his young star's style to his varied performances in his advertising work. Asano's Kakihara is disturbing, a peroxide picture of diffident evil, of casually conducted atrocities, an unmoving sleepy smile rarely leaving his face, difficult to do so given the razorblade extension along each side of his cheek.

Anjo is dead, gutted by the killing machine, Ichi, (Nao Omori) triggered by guilt and violence into a sexually stimulating slaughter. Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto, the director of Tetsuo, The Iron Man and Tokyo Fist) leads the cleanup crew and it is he who is the real manipulator of the massacre to come. It is a story heavily populated with the physically and mentally damaged, busted up prostitutes, corrupt freaks, the luckless and the mutilated. It becomes not so much a question of who is going to survive but is anyone going to die an easy death. There is suspension from hooks as hot oil is emptied over the victim's middle back, throats are slit, flesh is ripped from the back of the hand, needles are pushed through the face and dismemberment is rife. There is no side to take, nobody is safe from either side, though the ex-cop taken into the Anjo fold, is guardian to a boy he would prefer outside the culture though he keeps him in peripheral distance only from the death and savagery. He is there chiefly to present a human face to the gang, failingly, as in his committal to avenge his boss, he shifts not in his witness of the torture of an innocent girl. As they all suffer, so too eventually does the child, in a sequence that brings to mind Tsukamoto's Tetsuo II: The Body Hammer. The former Ms Singapore, Paulyn Sun (credited here as Alien Sun) plays Karen, an informant for Kakihara, who joins in with his investigations, then his cruelties, delivering blows to the dissatisfied masochist in playtime. Karen will make her own fatal miscalculation when playing on what she understands to be the key to Ichi's control. The CGI horror effects are too easily discernable and jar with the mechanical or simple illusion gore effects. Other shocks are very effective but unlike Shogun Assassin there is no one to root for, or warm to, no righteous familial relationship at the middle of the bloodletting, a spit of it but nothing concerted, integral or ingrained on the humanely and moralistic front.

The film is also too long a running for the sadistic onslaught. Rape revenge dramas and mutilation horror jaunts of the past ran 90 minutes and that was time enough to channel angst, but today's crime films and sadistic graphic horror movies can be overlong with no moral or intellectual escape valve. The movie you thought you had chosen to escape with becomes the mindless rip fest you find yourself wanting to escape from. It is self-defeating or culpably dangerous. There are no positive messages in Ichi The Killer, and you get the clear impression that Miike does not welcome any. You can get away with it in a short running time. It is not to say that you cannot run two hours plus of gore but you have to have a number of counteracting forces, intelligent and intellectual addresses, some revivifying conceptual compound or a realistic social context and emotional response. Technically it is often impressive but the film is overall the stuff of tantrums, sudden and childish, an unapologetic insensible shocker. It is too much, too fantastically silly and tiring in its unpleasantness, artful but heartless.

The extras are considerable but there is obviously going to be repetition when the boxset is using the original live and animated films as originally DVD released and material was bound to reappear between the discs, even on the individual discs. The behind the scenes material is refreshing if only for discovering how some of the most effective tricks were so simply brought about and how presumed computer generated work may prove to be a hard pursued practical setup, like the sliced off face slipping down the wall, reattempted until a sequence of slide occurs better than they could ever imagine. Behind the scenes Miike comes across as cold and sadistic as Kakihara, particularly disturbing when he is directing a rape scene at close quarters. Genre expert Bey Logan, star Alien Sun, and producer Elliot Tong provide audio commentaries. Sun points her legs in every which direction for her own fantastic glamour gallery and incredibly useful biographies and filmographies are included on the disc for key cast and for the director via animated menus that, as ever on Premiere Asia's releases instilling the right degree of wonder or terror, are magnificently considered and constructed.
Ichi The Killer boxset

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Ichi The Killer animated prequel

Ichi The Killer Region 1 DVD uncut

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