5 June 2004

Review: Ichi the Killer (4/5)

Man, seeing this film may have finally gotten my recent obsession with ultra-violent cinema out of my system. I had previously watched Ichi director Takashi Miike's film Audition and thought I had enough of it then. This went much further, but had an equal amount of humor. As Tarantino commented recently on Kill Bill: saying it has gratuitous violence is like saying that pornography has gratuitous sex. That's all it is.

(Which I'm sure was an unfair over-generalization, but you-get-the-point.)

Warning: This review contains graphic descriptions of scenes from the film.

Yakuza crime boss Anjo is killed by the mysterious Ichi, and the loyal-but-pathologically-masochistic gang member Kakihara (as pictured in the movie poster with piercings to hold closed the two two-inch cuts that artificially widen his mouth) diligently searches for the killer--you can imagine what "diligent" might mean to Kakihara. In the background are a group of ex-yakuza that seem to be controlling Ichi and causing mayhem with the many local gangs.

Some of the more painful scenes (I guess these are kinda spoilers, so read with caution):

  • The torture of a crime boss with foot-long metal needles (pushed slowly and completely up through the center of his lower jaw) as he's hung by dozens of meat hooks through the skin in his back,
  • The repeated rape and beating of a prostitute until half of her face is almost missing,
  • Kakihara rips out his mouth piercings in order to chew the flesh off an attacker's hand,
  • Kakihara cuts his own tongue out,
  • One of a pair of corrupt police detectives (twins) rips a mans arm off with his bare hands,
  • A woman's nipple is pulled taut with a metal alligator clamp and razored off

OK. As you can imagine, it was at times difficult to get past such scenes in order to watch the movie. But beyond the completely over the top violence, Ichi was a very elaborate examination of power, generosity, loyalty, and submission. Kakihara often philosophizes on the degrees of sadism and masochism in people. Many of the characters cycle through those states and interact with others in a different state. Miike develops a grand dramatic irony from the seemingly random interaction of those characters. And humorously, whenever two characters in the same state meet (for example: both submissive or both powerful), the action completely dies as if only variation can push the story forward.

The movie has many funny scenes, sometimes very dark but sometimes genuinely wacky. After one of the more brutal tortures where the two corrupt detectives could not get the information they were after, one of them declares it's time for "inspector rover" and puts on furry dog ears. He then leads his brother and Kakihara through the town as they sniff out the evidence.

And the violence isn't always of the envelope-pushing variety. At times, blood and guts fly as if shot with a firehose ... not exactly delightful, but so removed from reality that you're disarmed. At least until Kakihara pulls those foot-long needles out, and it gets sortof edgy again. Although that may be from the creepy, sometimes avant garde mix of music on the soundtrack.

Ichi the Killer was a very tight story with interesting, albeit deranged, characters and gripping cinematography.


-> Rotten Tomatoes

[ posted by sstrader on 5 June 2004 at 7:55:41 PM in Cinema ]