By Nicholas O’Malley
“Ichi the Killer”
Kakihara … Tadanobu Asano
Nao Omori … Ichi
Shinya Tsukamoto … Jijii
Based on the manga by … Hideo Yamamoto
Directed by … Takashi Miike
So here we are at the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. And here I am trying to pry Daniel Zelter away from Patrick Macias, author of “TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion”. Macias was doing a book signing today and now I had to pull Daniel, long time contributor to ANS, away so we could find a couple of seats before the movie starts. When Daniel had gone into his “I hate Animerica” rant, I knew time was up. “Dear God, man.” I said, and dragged him away. I knew if I had not interacted, Daniel would still be hanging on to Macias’ every word. That Patrick, he must be the devil himself! Just kidding, that was a lie. The Macias devil bit that is. He’s a cool guy. Into the theater we went.
Before we get to business, I want to talk about Chuck D. Now Chuck has been a great supporter of Japanese film festivals in the U.S. and is the organizer of the Japanese Outlaw Masters festival held at the Egyptian. I want to thank him for coming up with such a prestigious or notorious selection of new, recent, and old films. Now on to the film.
There isn’t a lot in ‘Ichi’ that can be said without giving some surprises away. Here’s an example:
Don’t worry he won’t rape you anymore.
Did you kill him?
Yes. Now I can rape you.
If you can comprehend something like that, you’re halfway to feeling the disturbing nature of the film. Its two main characters are both equally sick. Kakihara, a man with hideous open wound scars on his face, is on the trail of Ichi after he killed his boss, the Shinjuku Yakuza leader of the Anjo Group. Ichi, a sad crybaby who’s been bullied all his life, is the hitman for Jijii and his group, who want Anjo Group out of the way for reasons never really explained. Ichi dons a rubber super hero outfit with ichi-ban (1) on the back and razor blades on the back heels of his shoes. Jijii tells Ichi that the yakuza are bad men, worse than the bullies that beat him up and that he has to kill them. When Ichi gets mad, he goes homicidal, killing and dismembering everything in his path. Kakihara is excited that someone as destructive as Ichi exists. He wants to kill him badly.
Forty percent of what I liked about ‘Ichi’ is listening to the audience squirm, moan and tap their toes at what for them must be an excruciating experience. I did my share of squirming as well but as my dad always told me, when there’s a gory or scary moment in the movie, just think of all the people behind the cameras bored, drinking their millionth coffee, and listening to the director drone on take after take. Kind of detracts from the onscreen horror presented to you or just a little. I was expecting rows of people to start disappearing but amazingly a lot of them stayed. I was even surprised to see an elderly couple hanging in to the very end of the flick even though they thought it was sick. But unfortunately ‘Ichi’ has awfully realistic violence and upon that there are tons of scenes that will make you squirm.
But as I thought about it, if you take away all the violence in ‘Ichi’ you basically have a thirty-minute film of actual narrative. The narrative itself is weak and contains an ending that makes the film fall apart. ‘Ichi’ based on the manga by Hideo Yamamoto (Voyeurs Inc.) didn’t especially rely on an involving story to sell the book but instead sheer shock value. The manga has actually been banned in a few prefectures in Japan. It’s this kind of formula that works for the dangerous filmmaker, Miike who has always made absurd movies with unbelievable scenes of violence and action. I myself have advocated most of these films to friends but I can honestly say with Ichi, I felt jerked around.
Technically, ‘Ichi’ is a superior film in make-up and special effects. It’s rare to see a man split in half by razor blades with his guts spilling out, look so well.
The casting is awesome. Asano (Gohatto, Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts) as Kakihara is a performance that makes you both laugh and shudder to think what he’ll do next as he enters a room. Shinya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Gemini, and Tokyo Fist) who last appeared in Miike’s Dead Or Alive 2: Birds, gives a rare full-fledged performance that actually includes lines and nudity! And Nao Omori as Ichi a strange twisted character, so unbelievable that to even think of having empathy with someone like that may very well bring you certain death.
As I said earlier, there isn’t a lot in ‘Ichi’ that can be said without giving some surprises away. So much of this movie is riding on the absurd violence and the absurd comedy of that violence. On that level, I enjoyed it a lot. This isn’t a film for everyone. Don’t take it seriously.