Published Sep 01, 2001
"Ichi The Killer" is a flashy entrail-swaddled take on Hideo Yamamoto's Japanese manga comic "Koroshiya 1," which developed a large following, and a reputation for its extremely disturbing and violent images. Yamamoto has said he designed his scenes so that his readers "feel" them rather than "understand" them. Teaming him with director Takashimi Miike, who has his own reputation for over-the-top violence, is almost a marriage made in hell. The story follows Kakihara (played by "the Japanese Johnny Depp," Tadanobu Asano), a bleach blonde, facially pierced and scared Yakuza torture expert in the Anjo Group, as he seeks the whereabouts of missing Boss Anjo. Kakihara's sadistic interrogation style freaks everyone out, and starts making the other Yakuza bosses nervous.
Meanwhile, a shy, stammering, mentally unstable assassin, Ichi (Nao Omori), is leaving his own wake of mutilation in the Yakuza stomping grounds of Shinjuku (Tokyo). Tension builds as the inevitable showdown nears, and the grisly body count rises. Graphic throat slashing, limb hacking, disembowelling, eardrum piercing, nipple slitting, and the violent beating/rapes of the female "characters" are guaranteed to offend all but the most desensitised.
Hideo Yamamoto described all of his characters as "amazingly bad It's like a bad people all-star game." Unfortunately, it's hard to find anyone to identify with, unless you're a total sociopath. Comparisons have been made to "Natural Born Killers" because of the roles of anti-heroes and stylistic, over-the-top violence. But "Natural Born Killers" became what it was satirising in depicting its (unsuccessful) moral about the culture of violence, while "Ichi" revels in its tongue-in-cheek gore, with no redeeming message or stance.
For most politically correct Canadians, the depiction of brutal torture, and extreme violence against women with no ethical significance will turn both heads and stomachs. As a filmic interpretation of a comic book it's a slick, stylistic success. However, the ending is confusing, and deflating. It's all whiz, bang, and splatter with no meat, as it were. Perhaps if director Takeshi Miike made fewer than seven or eight movies a year ("Ichi" was shot in three weeks) he could have injected it with a little more coherence. Not for even the slightly squeamish or easily offended.