Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Movie Review: Ichi the Killer (2001)

So occasionally Netflix will give me the kick in the ass I need to watch all the movies in my queue by mysteriously making them unavailable for streaming on a certain date. Such was the case with Ichi the Killer, which is a film I know I should have seen a long time ago. And although it was quite a different movie than I was envisioning, it was no doubt a fun journey into the realm of mind-fuckery, courtesy of that austere auteur mind-fucker, Takashi Miike.

When yakuza crime boss Anjo disappears with a lot of money, his loyal henchman Kakihara - a sadomasochist with blonde hair and a heavily scarred face - goes on a revenge mission to find out what happened to him. He learns that Anjo was brutally murdered by a mysterious killer named Ichi, who is infamous for the fantastically bloody crime scenes he leaves behind after he's done his work.

To get the obvious complaint out of the way, no, that is not Ichi on the cover up there. That is Kakihara, who actually turns out to be a much more interesting character. Just his look makes him ten times cooler than anyone else in the movie, with his flashy rock star clothing and those weird-ass piercings on his mouth that seems to be holding the skin together (a later scene tells us that this is the truth - gah). Kakihara's character is also used to show the funny side of sadomasochism - as in the scenes where he gleefully tortures people ("KAKIHARA! What is going on here??!!"  "Just a little torture.") and the one scene where Anjo's girl Karen attempts to sexually satisfy Kakihara by beating the crap out of him.

But apparently Kakihara has nothing on the elusive Ichi in terms of blood and guts. So that we get an idea right off the bat of how dangerous Ichi is, the first main scene involves some men going into a room to clean up after him. There is gallons of blood literally dripping from the ceiling and walls, and all kinds of body parts and viscera on the floor, which one of the guys ends up slipping in. Ew.

And just who is this Ichi the Killer? In reality, he's a wimp. He's a whiny, pathetic little crybaby who can't be more than 25 years old. Turns out Ichi is under the control of Jijii who uses hypnosis and mind control to plant false memories into Ichi's head of him having been bullied at school. These memories enrage Ichi, and make him commit the murders that Jijii wants him to do. The best part is the fact that Ichi has this great all-black superhero outfit that he wears to do the killing, with the number 1 in yellow on the back. I thought this was silly at first, like Ichi was trying to say that he was Number 1, but a little research tells me that "ichi" is the Japanese word for "one." So I stand corrected.

Now I hate to sound like a jaded horror fan but it's true that I was a little disappointed by the violence and gore that this movie is supposedly so famous for. Or was I just not as affected by it because it was presented in a mostly comedic fashion? I'd say that's probably it. Many of the scenes reminded me of Tokyo Gore Police with the excessive blood-sprayage, especially in the two scenes where Ichi heel-razors those two chicks in the neck. I don't see how people can have a problem with this kind of violence, when it is very obviously cartoonish and so extreme that you can't really take it seriously.

The only parts where the violence was definitely not funny to me were the two scenes of the pimp beating up and raping a prostitute that Ichi likes. Though it is a bit over-the-top in how hard he punches her in the face, I wasn't too fond of these scenes because of how graphic they were and how close they were to reality.

I'm not saying that there wasn't some great gore gags in this movie, though - not by a long shot. Ichi the Killer has got some nasty stuff going on in it that I would have never thought of in a million years. When Kakihara takes out the piercings in his mouth and skins that guy's hand with his teeth? When Suzuki is strung up by those body hooks and has hot oil poured over his back and head? When the prostitute-abuser and rapist gets sliced down the middle of his body? Wonderful. All of these scenes were so much fun to watch, even if the special effects were mediocre on some of them - especially the body that gets split in half. I don't know if I was laughing at the effects at that part or the way the guy died, it could go either way.

As one of the most well-loved extreme Asian horror films, Ichi the Killer did not disappoint me. Even at over two hours long, it never felt drawn out or boring. I loved every minute of it and enjoyed the story that turned out to be so much different than I thought it was going to be. Another point for you, Miike! Good work!


  1. I loved this one, the scenes where they are hanging that dude from hooks and the pour hot oil onto his back...aaarrgghhhhh! Miike is awesome, recommend GOZU if you want a dose of Miike a la David Lynch.