Ichi The Killer (2001)

Directed by
A dazzlingly unique and creative movie
Reviewed by Simon on 2012-05-22

Miike's gangster movies have been constantly evolving since he first put his own uniquely absurdist (and oft offensive) spin on the genre with Fudoh and DEAD OR ALIVE. And in his spare time between the gangster movies he makes every other week, he brings a similar level of sheer outrage to a nice variety of other genres. His latest gangster movie (well, it was a few weeks ago, probably not by now), now doing the festival rounds, is ICHI THE KILLER. This movie takes the genre to a whole new level again... a level of outrageous violence.

Based on a Manga, the violence in Ichi is nearly always comic book style... i.e. over the top. Think Story Of Ricky, factor in 10 years worth of special effects technology improvement and add Miike's sheer willingness to put things on screen that no other movie maker would dream of, and you might get ICHI THE KILLER. The first scene shows a couple of gangsters preparing to go into a building to 'clean up the scene'. Seems that our killer ICHI has been there first, and he has a habit of leaving the scene in a mess. Sure enough, no sooner do they step through the door than one of the gangsters slips on an intestine and lands in a pile of guts and blood that shows just what a sick little killer our ICHI is.

"What is Ichi like?", one of the gangsters wonders. It will be quite some time before the viewer finds out, except by the residue he leaves behind.

In the meantime, Tadanobu Asano (definite runner for coolest actor in cinema today) is the protaganist through which the movie unfolds. He's a high ranking yakuza, and also quite a sick little puppy himself. His face bears some serious scars, with his cheeks sliced open into a rictus grin and held together by rings. Seeing him blow smokes out of his cheeks is a wonderfully perverse pleasure :D. Seems that Tadanobu's boss is missing, and he's determined to find out where he is, and doesn't care who he has to torture to get the information he wants. Not because he's a loyal man, but because he is a major masochist, and his boss beat him better than anybody else he knows.

If you've read this far, you'll realise that ICHI THE KILLER is a sick movie. A gloriously, rioutously twisted and perverse movie that breaks taboos and conventions you've never realised existed until Miike smashes straight through them. Sadism and masochism vie for dominance throughout the movie, with some of the most wince-inducing acts of violence ever commited to screen being perpetrated alternatively to the characters' enemies, friends and selves. Unlike Audition, where most of the violence is off screen, merely suggested, the camera in ICHI doesn't flinch once. People have their jugulars slit, get cut in half, have spikes pushed through their faces, you name it... you'll see it here. The special effects are a mixture of good old latex, CGI and the waste product of a butcher's shop... not exactly realistic (as much by virtue of sheer over-the-topness as any lack of technological proficiency), but more shockingly explicit than even STORY OF RICKY's carnage and dismemberment.

"Sounds awful", I'm sure most of you are thinking... why on earth should I watch this movie? This answer is... because it's funny. Miike makes these utterly horrific things so over the top, so absurd, that they transcend disgusting and become hilarious. The intelligence and visual invention running throughout the movie are palpably stunning. There's some amazingly innovative camerawork as well as the special effects, and really high production values considering the movie was probably made in about 6 weeks judging by Miike's output rate. The characters are very comic book, and brilliantly conceived and acted here. Great dialogue kept the audience laughing and gasping almost as much as what they were seeing.

Despite undoubtedly being the most OTT Miike movie I've seen yet, there seemed to be hardly any walk outs. I think that Miike knows how close to the line he's skating, and keeps the tone light and humurous throughout (unlike DEAD OR ALIVE and Visitor Q, which reach genuine depravity before he injects the humour that redeems the experience). Lots of people were covering their eyes or burying their heads at times, but everybody seemed to be loving the movie. It was a full theatre, and when we all left at about 2.30am, the atmosphere was great... everybody there was grinning like a deranged killer themselves.

I'd say definitely pick it up on DVD, it's such a dazzlingly unique and creative movie I think everyone should see it. Perhaps best not to eat anything for a couple of days before putting it on though :))