If stylised screen violence, punctuated with gallons of gore, constitutes your idea of entertainment, then you’ll adore this outrageous adaptation of Hideo Yamamoto’s popular manga comic “Koroshiya 1a” by Japanese auteur, Takashi Miike. Despite being cut by the BBFC by a staggering 3 minutes 15 seconds, (due to “scenes of mutilated, raped or savagely beaten women or of sexual pleasure from violence”), this rollercoaster of comic strip styled splatter will still sate even the most jaded of exploitation fans.
Rival gangs in Tokyo’s Shinjuku’s district find yakuza codes of conduct shattered when the head of the Anjo clan mysteriously disappears with a million yen, whilst entertaining a prostitute. His main hitman, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a sadomasochistic and multi-pierced psychopath, is pretty pissed off, not just because there’s a lot of money at stake, but also due to the fact that boss Anjo was his dominant S/M partner. Dressed in a hip, purple trench coat, and covered with the results of several outrageous scarification techniques, Kakihara sets out with a motley crew of hardmen to discover Anjo’s whereabouts.
He suspects rival hitman, Suzuki, of being involved, and following an excruciating torture scene in which a naked Suzuki is suspended from the ceiling with fish hooks and chains, Kakihara is dismissed by his superior (Tetsu Sawaki). By way of atonement, Kakihara calmly takes a dagger, and slices off the end of his own tongue.
Enlisting the help of beautiful nightclub hoestess, Karen (Alien Sun aka Paulyn Sun), who regularly entertains various yakuza, whilst offering mystical prophecies in a bizarre mixture of languages ranging from English to Cantonese, Kakihara learns of a mysterious razor-booted assassin called, Ichi (Nao Omori), a schizophrenic whose slayings are so violent that a special team of “cleaners” are required at the scene of each of his gore-laden crimes.
Following a series of bizarre assassinations and tortures, involving inventive combinations of CGI and special make-up FX, we learn the origins of anti-hero Ichi, and the scene is set for a final showdown between the two psychopaths.
Shocking and comical by turn, ICHI THE KILLER will undoubtedly add to the cult status of Takashi Miike’s films. The director is renowned for his constant refusal to conform to the expectations of his audience, and has said of his work, “If I try to make a film to satisfy everyone’s needs, then it’s going to be a boring film”. AUDITION (2000) destroyed the traditional Asian concept of the submissive female, in a film that turned from comedic-romance to shock-horror with a finale that had viewers quaking in their boots. Whilst more recently, THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (2002) managed to re-invent the horror/fantasy genre with a script that was best summed up as THE SOUND OF MUSIC meets NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.
ICHI THE KILLER presents us with several disturbed anti-heroes: One a warped super-hero figure, whose memory has been tampered with hypnotically. As a result, ICHI, paradoxically, wants to annihilate those who cause suffering to others, but also has a fetish for the extreme degradation of females. Kakihara, on the other hand, loves inflicting pain on others so much, that it’s a spiritual high to suffer mutilation and extreme S/M techniques himself. Despite their horrendous traits, director Miike paints these characters so vividly, and enthuses them with enough charm, that we find ourselves rooting for them throughout. Their callous acts of unprecedented violence (breasts are sliced off with razors, bodies are sliced in half, disembowelled, and have limbs severed, etc) cause the viewer to question our own sensibility, as regards our respect for such abominable characters, and it’s only by presenting the whole demented tableaux as a kind of warped superhero action adventure that Miike gets away with as much as he does.
Familiar staples of Miike’s style are once more flaunted in front of the audience, psychedelic-like editing techniques, varying film stocks blown up to 35mm, the re-arrangement and mixing of soundtrack music to create a thumping cacophony of industrialized break-beats, and the employment of film directors (Shinya Tsukamato and Hiroyuki Tanaka) and pop singers (Tadanobu Asano) as actors, and of course, gratuitous violence. All these elements combine to create a surreal film that delights in its excesses, and you’ll want to watch the film more than once. Well done to Medusa Communications new Premier Asia, for bringing the film to the UK (despite it’s cuts). The impressive publicity campaign launched by UK media representatives, The Associates announces that “ICHI THE KILLER is guaranteed to amaze, stun, shock and delight” and for once, you can believe the hype.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Takashi Miike
Japanese with English subtitles
Japan / 2001 / 125 minutes 18s
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
Region 2. PAL. Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1
ICHI THE KILLER