Ichi The Killer

2001, Movie, NR, 127 mins


Takashi Miike's frenetic comic yakuza thriller embodies the best and worst this notorious Japanese genre auteur has to offer: It's endlessly inventive, consistently intelligent and sickeningly savage. The ultra-violent plot is triggered when the boss of the Anjo gang goes missing, along with a 100 million yen of the Sanko syndicate's money. Anjo's devoted protégé, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a bleached-blond killer with a gruesome rictus permanently carved into his face and a insatiable taste for torture, is convinced his boss has been kidnapped by the Funaki crime family. But after brutally interrogating an innocent Funaki yakuza with hooks, skewers and a pot of boiling tempura oil, Kakihara is expelled from the syndicate. When he learns that his beloved Anjo has actually been murdered, Kakihara swears vengeance, aided by Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka), a cowardly, disgraced cop who became a devoted member of the Anjo gang after the boss rescued him from a humiliating back-alley beating. But finding Anjo's killer won't be easy: Kakihara only knows that he's called Ichi — "number one" — and that he's capable of slicing and dicing his way through a room full of gangsters in a matter of seconds. Masochistic Kakihara is excited by the prospect of meeting such a bloodthirsty sadist, but in reality Ichi (Nao Omori) is a timid, emotionally disturbed waiter who's being cruelly manipulated by Jijii (TETSUO director Shinya Tsukamoto), a sworn enemy of the Arjo gang. Jijii knows that he can send Ichi into a sobbing, murderous rage by simply reminding him of the terrible abuse Ichi once suffered at the hands of schoolyard bullies. Now, brainwashed into believing that it's his mission to rid the world of all such tormentors, and driven by a sexually charged bloodlust he doesn't quite understand, Ichi turns Tokyo's crime-infested Shinjuku district into a slaughterhouse. Based on the adult manga created by Hideo Yamamoto, the film has a colorful, cartoonish quality that often belies its serious theme — compromised masculinity invariably leads to violence — and does little to alleviate the film's misogynistic brutality. Miike's bizarre fascination with the battered faces of once-beautiful prostitutes reaches an unconscionable extreme here, and though the female characters' brutalization might be thematically justified, Miike's mercilessly graphic depiction of it isn't. Having temporarily slaked his appetite for such wet work, Miike followed this bloodbath with the comparatively restrained crime thriller OUTLAW SOULS and musical comedy THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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