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volume 3 issue 7

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Ichi the Killer
Limited Theatrical Release
Takeshi Miike
Tadanobu Asano
Nao Omori
Shinya Tsukamoto
Hideo Yamamoto
The best super-hero movie of the summer... if you can stomach it.
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
Ichi the Killer
By Jake Forbes

Takeshi Miike (Audition, Dead or Alive) makes it clear right off the bat that Ichi the Killer isn't for the faint of heart. Within fifteen minutes, the audience is blasted with images of rape, beating, and the most disturbing torture scene I've ever seen (I won't be too specific, but it involves meat hooks, deep frying, piercing, probing, and a man's bits and pieces). Whereas Dead or Alive seduces you with its style and Audition builds its sickening intensity gradually, Ichi literally ejaculates its arrival with sadistic glee.

The plot, what little of one there is, revolves around a self-mutilated Yakuza henchman's search for his missing boss (who we can only assume is the guy whose splattered remains litter the floor in the opening scene). When it becomes evident to him that the boss isn't coming back, the henchman, Kakihara, becomes increasingly interested in finding his killer, Ichi, not to get revenge, but for masochistic pleasure. As Kakihara's ultra-violent ways (he has a penchant for long needles) scare even his fellow Yakuza, he is soon cut off from the rest of the crime syndicate. Ichi, meanwhile, is being manipulated into killing off Kakihara's gang, one at a time. It's only a matter of time before these two personalities collide.

At first glance, the movie seems like just another Yakuza hitman movie (only more gory and colorful). However, as the movie progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent to the comic book/manga fan that this is a superhero movie. Kakihara, with the mouth piercings that come undone to monstrous effect, is a classic super-villain. He's followed by regular henchmen (most noticeably a father determined to succeed as a killer, and a career killer who's resigned to his fate), but in manga fashion, he's flanked by two identical twin minions who rival him in their masochistic ways (one of whom wears wolf ears, tied to his head with a ribbon). Ichi himself is a Hulk-like reluctant "hero," who doesn't want to do his "duty" of killing "bullies," but is persuaded to face his destiny by a mysterious agent. Ichi's superhero costume, a latex body suit adorned with a hilarious number 1 (to boost his low self-esteem?) looks like a low budget Marvel knock-off.

The movie also works as a social commentary on repressed sexuality and rape fantasies in Japan. The title character is actually an incredibly pathetic crybaby who feels guilty about a rape that he witnessed as a youth... but not just guilt for not helping her, but guilt that he wasn't the one doing the raping. He's an extreme otaku who doesn't like to leave his room, plays Tekken 3 obsessively, and cries at the slightest provocation. He desperately wants to get revenge on the rapist "bullies," but as his mysterious employer points out, there are other bullies in the world... worse bullies (and bullies don't get much worse than Kakihara!). The whole motivation and wish-fulfillment fantasies become confused with MOMENTO-us revelations later on.

But at its heart, Ichi the Killer is a sadistic barrage of violent imageray (every 5 minutes of plot and dialogue is punctuated by either torture or massacre). At 129 minute running time, Ichi does get a bit repetitive, but it never bores. Over the course of the film, Miike's violence crosses from painfully real to CGI enhanced absurdity. Initial laughs are more of a defense mechanism for the viewer who can't process the guignol display, but by the end, it's apparent that our chuckles were expected all along. I came out of the film disturbed not by what I saw, but by the fact that we humans can think up such F__cked up ways to maim each other (even though only one in a billion acts on those thoughts to this degree). Good times.

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