Ichi the Killer is a live adaptation of the seinen manga (a subset of manga that is generally targeted at a 15-24 year old male audience) which I haven’t read. This film (like the cannibal genre) came to my attention through extensive reading on controversial films. Capturing my attention for being known to be heavily edited in several countries because of its depiction of violence. The controversy warrant towards “Ichi the Killer” is debatable given the whole film is comically over the top, but is an interesting odd film even if it is a mess.
Ichi the Killer is about sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer Kakihara searching for his missing boss when he comes across Ichi, a repressed and psychotic killer who may be able to inflict levels of pain that Kakihara has only dreamed of. The general idea plot is easy to track, but the pieces in between are told awkwardly. Pacing is not this film best friend simultaneously providing long scenes that move the plot and poorly establishes a large cast of characters and their background. While the main character of Kakihara and Ichi have a bizarrely interesting personality secondary characters leave plenty to be desire when the only two interesting character aren’t on screen. With the exception of one secondary characters bridging the plot most of them present something and then disappear leaving viewer interpretation to fill the blank. Given the nature of the film to be comical the acts of the yakuza and the anti-hero might not end up being a laughing matter to some. Instead of playing things for laugh in self awareness it play things over the top. One of those of moments being the anti-hero killing a rapist, leading to a misunderstanding in which he tells the woman he just saved to beat her up instead of her husband, and ending in a bloody result. Dark comedy is tricky to pull off and in this there are situations in which a dark moment can easily be mistaken for crucial drama. Where it suffers most is the climax which overstays its welcome. While narratively interesting it’s not strong enough to support itself making the final stretch of the film hard to sit through. Here’s a story whose tone, humor, and commentary no less provide a series of good and bad feelings that makes the journey interesting to see unfold.
Takashi Miike direction is comparable to Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”. The beginning of “Ichi the Killer” employs a lot of extended cinematographic techniques in rapid succession ala Oliver Stone–different film speeds, stocks, tinting and processing methods, and so on. While these are interesting, Miike forgets about them quickly as he works his way into the story. They pop up occasionally later in the film, as do a couple shots in the vein of Dario Argento, such as a tracking shot through someone’s ear. Both also aimed to view violence in a sophisticated way; however, whereas “Natural Born Killers” intentions were clear in its discussion of glamorize and commercialism of violence “Ichi the Killer” is the confused little brother unsure on how make his statement. Miike establishes scenes with stoic emotions. For example, in the beginning of the film Ichi sees a woman getting rape and does nothing about it. Similar scenes are done throughout the film that demand the viewer to input their interpretation of the scene. Interpretations and reaction will differ, but the substance to work on by itself is not evident. Asking the audience to fill in too much giving the film an artificial feel to it. Not everything feels like it belongs for every gory scene there will an out of nowhere comedy that challenges what the last scene was attempting to do. Style and narrative is cohesive, but not so much the director intention. Grabbing you when it attempts to say something, but gives up half way through on saying anything at all. Making the film aim inconsistent in whether or not its wants a position in its own purpose.
Tadanobu Asano is brilliant as Kakihara. His performance is charismatic and terrifying, he does a great job of making the role his own. Nao Omori plays Ichi perfectly. Tormented, childish, and merciless all in one scene is a sight to watch. Balancing comedy and drama transitioning smoothly in between tone despite the script failing to do the same. Alien Sun is is good in the way she speaks more than one language in an almost random fashion adding further mystery to this film. Shinya Tsukamoto is also very good as Jijii. His character is unravelled throughout the film and Tsukamoto is very convincing in his portrayal of what turns out to be a very complex character. Gore hounds will be impressed with the practical effects with the gore. There’s a scene early in the film in which Kakihara cuts off his tongue in one shot and another scene when a criminal is hanging on fish hooks while being tortured. Sadly most of the gore appears spontaneously exiting the film quickly, though when there is gore it never fails to deliver a memorable moment.
Ichi the Killer is bizarre, interesting, contains spontaneous gore, and a mess of a film that’s hard to look away from. There’s so many things wrong about enjoying a dark comedy in which people’s death are played for laughs in a stoic direction. Yet there’s hardly many films like it taking an wholly unique to its material that makes it standout. One thing is for certain while the director emotions aren’t clear yours will be on a film that’s rarely like many other.