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If you have been following my reviews for the past couple of years, you know how much i love most of Takashi Miike's films. He offers a unique vision of the world that is at the same time extremely disturbing, graphic, and fresh. His movies are always extremely inventive and his stories present characters that are out of this world. He makes extreme cinema the way i like it. I had heard so much about this film that when finally it became available on DVD, uncut and uncensored in Europe, i immediately grabbed it. After the major shocks i went under watching "Audition" and "Visitor Q", i was expecting something as extreme. Boy, was i not disappointed. "Ichi The Killer" is now my favorite movie of his, and one of my top five horror films of all time, period. It is a graphic, imaginative, complex foray into how far an individual would go to satisfy his quest for the ultimate pleasure and pain.
The story and the writing are both amazing. This is a complex expose of lost love, desensitization which leads to the ever unfruitful search for the next ultimate pleasure or pain. The more extreme the new experience is, the emptier the individual feels. Afterwards, even more extreme experiences are sought. It's an endless cycle. Kakihara is a dangerous Yakuza mobster for whom sadism is a way of life, in the most philosophical sense. From the first scene in the movie where you see him, you know you are in front of someone fascinating, strange and disturbing. Miike has the rare ability to be able to summarize his characters in a few frames: his haircut, his scars, the way he smokes (a major stunner for me when I saw it first), the way he dresses are all shown in under 120 seconds, and at the end of it, you know the character quite well. Kakihara views pain and pleasure as inextricably linked and shows the utmost professionalism, respect, and care, when administering pain, or receiving it. Masochism is also very much his cup of tea. Sade would have been very proud. "Real love hurts", "You have to be serious when administering pain. It's the only way to be considerate", "There's no love in your violence", and "The only thing that can help me now is despair" are some of the lines in this movie. Bellow the derision lies a dark corner.
When his boss, pain master, and probably lover too, disappears one night, Kakihara feels a huge void growing inside him: he dearly misses the torture his dead boss infringed on him. What started as a search for revenge quickly turns into something quite different as Kakihara learns more about who his boss' killer is. Quickly, Ichi, the killer, is idealized as a new pain partner, and probably lover, so the search for vengeance turns into a search for lost love, albeit, a sick one by any standard. Ichi is the pure sadist figure to Kakihara, because Ichi appears to be ultra violent, strong, and without much emotions. Anyone who crosses paths with him loses every single body part they ever had on them in a matter of seconds. Ichi, you see, has an amazing kick, and sharp blades coming out of the back of his shoes.
But Ichi is not all that. A mentally ill boy, Ichi is being manipulated by a mysterious man to destroy the yakuza gang Kakihara leads. Ichi believes he stood by while a young girl at his school got raped. Incapable of moving, he watched the whole act, unable to help the poor girl. He is now on a quest to kill all the bullies on the planet. But in reality, he actually liked watching the rape, and got very excited in the process. He is totally confused emotionally then between the desire to rescue oppressed girls and the pleasure to rape or kill them himself. During the final confrontation between Kakihara and Ichi (an amazing cinematic moment), Ichi breaks down as he realizes his contradictions. And Kakihara realizes that his idealized pain partner is nothing more that a poor mentally retarded individual. Di-Sa-Poin-Ted!
"Ichi The Killer" is absolutely not for the faint of heart. On top of the very mature subject matter, we are treated to visuals rarely seen on film so far. Scenes of torture, carnage, and self-mutilation are everywhere. And they are unsettling. This is not your average Gore movie. Most violent moments originate from someone's perversions. Mixed in with a realistic setting, this is a horror film like no other. There is nothing supernatural (ok, maybe Ichi's strength and shoes, but that's not what I mean). All characters are "real" characters with extreme perversions, who unleash their sickness on one another. The intense creativity and dark, absurd humor is everywhere to be seen. Costumes, sets, lighting, makeups, gore effects, are all there for one purpose: immerse you in Ichi's and Kakihara's sick worlds. Miike's attention to details is always fantastic, but reaches new heights in this movie. The editing is furious, and the score, even if a little bit repetitive, manages to grab some real estate in your brain. To round it up, you have a superb performance by Tadanobu Asano (Kakihara), and decent performances from the rest of the cast.
This movie is a rare gem, managing some extreme Horror visuals in a context that is unfamiliar to most fans of the horror genre. The only movie i can think of that possesses this type of mood is "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". The characters are all people who could be real, in situations which could be real, and you hope never to meet them in your entire life. If you can get past the aggression and violence that permeates this movie, you'll get privy to a fascinating world, rendered in amazing details by Miike and his team. This a is first class horror movie that doesn't shy away from disturbing images, complex characters and controversial subjects. It tops it all with well written material. If you can take it, if you can key into the derision and what i found to be deep human issues, it's one of a kind, a hell of a ride.
This movie is finally available in the US (Region 1) in both Rated and Unrated version. I strongly recommend you get the Unrated version, otherwise, you'll still get shocked, but without any redeeming value. A shame!
- Laurent Hasson