Movie Review: Ichi the Killer
FILM REVIEW: ICHI THE KILLER
By John Petrakis
Special to the Tribune
"Ichi the Killer" is the latest bloodbath by Japanese cult director Takashi Miike ("Audition"), and to call it superior to Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" is to pay a backhanded compliment. Neither film is very good, but at least "Ichi" tackles its gory subject matter with a modicum of integrity, as in "This is it, it's bizarre, but deal with it," instead of Tarantino's work, which patches together bits and pieces from other genres.
"Ichi the Killer" also pays homage to the revenge tragedy, but it takes the time to put its sick and damaged characters in context, helping us to appreciate (if not necessarily accept) why they must live and act like animals.
The film plays out in a seedy section of Tokyo populated by gangsters, hookers, pimps and pushers. One night, evil gang boss Anjo is murdered while engaging in some kinky fun with an energetic prostitute. Anjo's first lieutenant, the borderline-psychotic Kakihara, who also indulged in sadomasochistic romps with Anjo, is determined to find out who killed his boss.
To that end, he initiates various brands of torture (his specialty) to elicit information from assorted thugs and lowlifes. It doesn't matter to him if his victims don't really know anything; he gets off on their screams. (Sadomasochistic psychology plays a major role in this film.)
At one point, he crosses the line by abusing an innocent member of a rival gang. As penance, he cuts out his own tongue - yes, we see it - and hands it to his enemy. (Kakihara's tongue miraculously regenerates a few hours later.)
As the search continues, Kakihara discovers that Anjo was murdered by Ichi, who doesn't fit anyone's image of a hired killer. Instead of exhibiting macho cool, Ichi is a quivering mass of nerves; he only finds the courage to attack through posthypnotic suggestion initiated by an ex-cop who wants to destroy all the local gangs. The hypnosis is so diabolical, it plants sordid childhood memories in Ichi's brain that never actually happened, just to provide motivation.
This discovery leads to a climactic confrontation involving Ichi, Kakihara and his henchmen, many of whom end up sliced lengthwise. And it's here that the film, like so many of the characters in that scene, falls apart: Any serious message has been sacrificed on the altar of excess, making us realize why the stylish story probably worked better as a graphic comic book than as a film.
"Ichi the Killer"
Directed by Takashi Miike; written by Sakichi Soto, based on the comic strip by Hideo Yamamoto; photographed by Hideo Yamamoto (no relation to the cartoonist); production designed by Takashi Sasaki; edited by Yasushi Shimamura; music by Karera Musication; produced by Akiko Funatsu, Dai Miyazaki. Opens Friday at Facets Multimedia. Running time: 2:09 No MPAA rating (extreme violence; no one under 18 will be admitted). In Japanese, with English subtitles.
Kakihara - Tadanobu Asano
Ichi - Nao Omori
Jijii - Shinya Tsukamoto
Karen - Alien Sun