Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ichi The Killer

The verdict: Two hours of shock and awe. Takashi Miike is pushing the extreme envelope with Ichi the Killer.

The craziness: Torture, arterial spray, sado-masochism, rape and an assortment of other depravities I'm trying to put out of my mind to be honest.

The rating: 6/10

Right... well, where to start with Ichi the Killer, but with the other movies I've seen that come close in terms of extreme shock value? Irreversible remains the most difficult movie I've ever watched, and Oldboy had previously come a close second. The difference between the two was the level of entertainment to be found in Oldboy, which even managed to include one or two darkly comic moments amidst all the mayhem. Irreversible offered no such respite, and that still remains the most affected I have ever been by a movie, in that it made me feel physically ill.

Takashi Miike's movie sits somewhere between the two of these, and is in the same vein of 'extreme' film. It is ultra-violent and horrific, but not completely devoid of a sense of humour, albeit a very very dark one.

Some of the bloody action sequences are just so over the top that they have the comic value of something like Peter Jackson's 'Braindead' or maybe 'The Story of Ricky'. These scenes include the liberal use of aterial spray and severed limbs, and the rather clever device of initially just following the people who 'clean up' after Ichi has done his killing... these scenes show us Ichi's aftermath, organs and entrails make the floor slippery and give us a sense of foreboding about this mysterious assassin.

The story (for what it's worth!) centers around a bunch of in-fighting Yakuza gangs. When the boss of the Anjo gang goes missing, his number 1, a thoroughly despicable torturer named Kakahari - the man in the poster above - sets about trying to find him, using any means necessary.

We are introduced to Kakahari immediately after seeing the after-effects of Ichi's handiwork for the first time, and while we are wondering what kind of ruthless killer Ichi is going to be, we soon learn that Kakahari enjoys pain. Not just inflicting pain, but having pain inflicted on him. His face is horrifically scarred, and we gradually learn that these marks were inflicted by boss Anjo, and that Kakahari has a bizarre attachment to the boss as a result.

While this maniac tortures other mob bosses to find his own, we learn a little more about Ichi himself. This character is truly bizarre, and will defy explanation, but I'll attempt to do him justice as briefly as I can... Right, so he was bullied as a kid, and witnessed a rape, which he actually enjoyed watching. Now grown up, he is being controlled by an enemy of the gangs - a guy named Jijii - who has somehow programmed Ichi to hate and want to kill the Yakuza bullies. When Jijii sends Ichi into a yakuza apartment to take out the bad guys, he dons his black leather superhero costume, replete with blades in the heels of his boots. When his victims inevitably make the mistake of mickey out of his appearance, Ichi burts into tears, but, Incredible Hulk-style, crying triggers his programming, and he literally tears the bad guys to shreds.

The thing is, Ichi is reluctant to inflict violence, while Kakahari revels in it. In fact, Kakahari is addicted to pain, whether it be the giving or receiving. Ichi meanwhile, is in constant trauma about the violence he is inflicting on others, seemingly without any conscious decision on his part. Their separate paths seem on an inevitable collision course, but what will happen when these two incredibly different insane killers meet?

And that's about the size of it... Ichi is thoroughly extreme and not for the faint-hearted. It's nowhere near as good as Oldboy, but marginally more enjoyable than Irreversible, mainly because Ichi's blood-letting is generally way over the top... apart from a few highly questionable scenes involving women. (Women don't generally do to well out of this movie by the way). Kakahari's scenes are far less enjoyable though, given that they involve rather imaginative and nightmarish torture methods. (Including one scene with a scissors that Robert Rodriguez shamelessly lifted for 'Planet Terror')

The following people will almost certainly enjoy 'Ichi the Killer':
1. Asia extreme collectors
2. Horror movie fans
3. Manga fans

If you're not any of those things, you won't like this movie. If, on the other hand, you partake in one of the three activities mentioned above, you'll find a lot in Ichi that you might not have seen before. At the end of the day, it's pretty much a kooky video nasty that kids and students will use to try and gross out their mates after a few pints. High-brow dramatic art it most certainly ain't, unless I missed something when I was watching from between my fingers...

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