Ichi the Killer (2001)
By: Michael Helms on August 5, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Siren Visual Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Japanese DD 5.1. English Subtitles. 129 minutes
The Movie
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Sabu, Alien Sun, Shinya Tsukamoto, Nao Omori, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, Satoshi Niizuma, Toru Tezuka, Yoshiki Arizono, Hoka Kinoshita, Mai Goto, Hiroyuki Kobayashi,
Screenplay:Sakichi Sato based on the manga by Hideo Yamamoto
Music: Karera Musication
Country: Japan
Ichi The Killer received its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival of 2001. In the direct aftermath of 9/11 900 audience members who had been issued with vomit bags immediately began spreading the word on the film just as the news of the other cataclysmic event encircled the globe. A new goremeister in the form of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike had arrived and the film that Ichi was immediately compared to was Peter Jackson's Braindead. Sure, Ichi has its fair share of arterial sprays and utilises household objects to test human flesh in ways that they weren't designed for but this is no simple gagfest. Not only will Ichi rip your head off and pull your intestines out your neck it will also simultaneously fuck you, and I'm not talking gently and not necessarily physically. Simply put Ichi is a direct challenge to how we view violence and how the space between your ears processes it which is one reason it never scored a berth at the Melbourne International Filmfest.

Urgent music accompanies flashing imagery of a seething urban Japan as we land on first avenue, smack in the middle of Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Inside an apartment a woman is being beaten to a pulp. Someone is watching from outside. A man rapes the woman as he punches her. While all the action occurs inside the interested observer has blown on a pot plant on the balcony. As his sperm drips off the leaves of the plant and forms a pool on the ground the main title animates itself from the midst of the little puddle.

Elsewhere three leather clad cleaners with designer face masks enter another apartment which is covered from floor to ceiling in intestines and grue. We soon meet the blonde and facially scarred Kakihara from the front cover of the disc box and learn that gang boss Anjo has gone missing along with 3 million yen. Kakihara believes his leader is being held by another gang and announces his intention to find him. Not only an incredibly snappy dresser, Kakihara is also seriously obsessed and obviously not a man to fuck with. At a night club Kakihara notices a bunch of partying yakuza who hit themselves up in between rounds of drinks. They're explained to him as gang outcasts and Kakihara offers them a reward for any information on his missing boss. Out on the street a man naked from the waist down is being chased. One guy (Jijii) brings Kakihara a rumour about the activities of another gang. It's pointed out to Kakihara that he once cheated that gang out of a porn deal but Kakihara still orders their boss, Mr. Suzuki, to be brought to him. Stringing Suzuki up on hooks ala Fakir Musafar, Kakihara sticks steel skewers in his face getting Suzuki to admit to dubbing porn videos. Kakihara then whips up some fried shrimp and pours the boiling oil on his victim's back.

Meanwhile, the gang of outcasts watch it all on CC TV courtesy of the camera Jijii sneaked into the Anjo gang office. Kakihara is obviously enjoying himself as Jijii disappears.

Later Kakihara faces a syndicate of gang bosses and in order to apologise for his untoward behaviour with Mr. Suzuki he unceremoniously cuts off half of his own tongue which only earns revulsion and enmity from the assembled yakuza. Kakihara just answers his mobile and carries on his search with his new speech impediment and a few stitches. Kakihara then hooks up with the girlfriend of his missing gang boss and has to break the fingers of a woman who won't provide him with any information. Kakihara soon discovers Jijii's surveillance equipment and a supply of money which is covered in blood. Licking the cash he surmises that this gang did the deed and he immediately seeks a confession. Encasing one guy inside a tubeless TV set he's told that Ichi did the killing. We also learn that Kakihara only wants his boss back because he loves to be tortured by him. With Kakihara's tongue floating in a jar Suzuki swears to kill Kakihara.

Besides the opening sequence it's not until mid way through the film that we gain any firm insight into the title character other than the rumours and the aftermath of his killing sprees. We're back observing another brutal rape and so is Ichi who this time begins to have flashbacks of his own. Dressed in a neoprene costume that makes him resemble a beetle Ichi lets himself in the room and is promptly questioned and bashed by the rapist. Reduced to tears Ichi suddenly lashes out cutting down his foe in a surprising way with a razor sharp knife hidden in his boot. Ichi then offers to continue beating the girl which she accepts. Ichi then gets too enthusiastic.

Back to Kakihara who has been thrown out of the syndicate. He decides to take control of the Anjo gang himself and the only dissenter has to deal with his needle work. Kakihara also teams up further with Karen the boss's girl who he discovers has sadistic abilities. The experience with Karen soon turns sour for Kakihara and it only becomes a matter of time before he will have to face off with Ichi. A face off literally occurs in the next scene (and slides down the wall) where Ichi's mission to rid the world of all bullies is revealed in full bloody detail. It also becomes apparent that Ichi has had his mind seriously twisted by arch manipulator Jijii. After some nipple slicing one of Kakihara's torture assistants dons a set of bear ears, sniffs a torture victim's vagina and is back on the trail of Ichi. When attacked Kakihara removes the sleepers from the slits that widen his mouth to his cheeks and some seriously crazy violence occurs. After being accidentally run down Ichi is propositioned by Tachibana the English-speaking driver who takes him home and sucks him off. Ichi's enthusiasm gets the worst of him again and sets the scene for the showdown between Kakihara, Ichi, and a fallen cop and his young son on a roof top.

The finale is by turns funny, sad, surprising and in the last scene, mysterious. Jijii also contributes several surprising final revelations.
Much of Ichi takes place in dark corridors, dark alleys and at night but this film remains very colourful thanks to Kakihara's haute couture and in fact all the costuming. The transfer is very sharp and solid. The production design in general is always interesting to look at and this is one film that will constantly undermine anyone attempting to discern between the physical and the computer generated.
You can hear Ichi in either a Japanese (preferred) or English dubbed 5.1 surround mix that makes the most of all sorts of sound effects that constantly push and support the visuals. Takashi Miike's use of sound is sometimes forceful but always effective. His music choices are often superb as close listening to Ichi will reveal.
Extra Features
An Ichi trailer along with 37 stills that include sequences of the original manga, production stills, finished ad art, and a series of interesting comparisons between production and costuming design artwork and the end product.

Nine behind the scenes sequences including two B-roll edited montages and the set up for the nipple cutting sequence.

A director's commentary that features manga artist Hideo Yamamato talking with Takashi Miike runs with english subtitles. The commentary mightn't be the busiest ever attached to a film but this is a place where the sense of fun a filmmaker can get from his work constantly oozes from the speakers. For example, Miike claims much of the music came first in the construction of Ichi before going on to say that real sperm was used in the production but there wasn't enough so they had to get contributions from the crew!
The Verdict
Ichi is the rare heavily loaded movie that can actually deliver new aspects on repeated viewings. In fact, I think I'm going to go watch it again now. Seriously, for me, Ichi has become the Natural Born Killers of this decade, a film I spent the 90s viewing on an annual basis. While we haven't got the two disc British version of Ichi which basically only includes extra commentary from cast members, we have got three minutes more of Ichi. Amazingly, the OFLC have allowed Ichi to hit the shelves with the second rape sequence entirely intact. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
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