Neil Young’s Film Lounge

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

ICHI THE KILLER

8/10

Japan 2000 : Takashi Miike : 126 mins

Takashi Miike is clearly one sick fuck. He’s also, equally clearly, one of the most talented directors in the world. His last picture, Audition, didn’t really hang together, but climaxed with one of the most gruelling torture sequences ever filmed – a sweaty ordeal that crossed beyond horror into humour. Ichi the Killer is a major step forward – and this time, there are ‘unwatchable’ sequences all the way through. Wherever this movie is shown, there will be walkouts – but if you can stay in your seat, and force yourself to keep watching, you’ll be taken on an exhilarating ride through a unique, hardcore new world. It seems that, in Tokyo at least, the present really does look how the past saw the future, and Miike is our guide. He’s never afraid to use flashy camerawork, but his control is dazzling – and he pays just as much attention to how the film sounds (grisly effects, an eclectic soundtrack) as to its look.

The chaotic plot kicks off when weirdo psychopath Ichi (Sabu) slaughters a yakuza mob boss. Enter Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), the gangster’s super-confident, hyper-sadistic right-hand man, whose quest to track down the mysterious Ichi enables him to slice and dice his way through most of the cast in a variety of inventively gruesome ways. While Ichi is a blank you’d never notice in the street, and a nondescript nerd who only turns violent when sufficiently aroused, Kakihara is another matter entirely. He’s a smiling zen-psycho dandy on the (literal) cutting-edge of fashion, with some (literally) jawdropping facial scarring and piercings. Most ‘charismatic’ movie gangsters are paper-thin creations, representing an adolescent’s idea of cool – Kakihara, however, is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Just one example – to repent for an earlier sadism spree, Kakihara slices off the front of his own tongue with a knife, only for his mobile phone to ring. He takes the call as if nothing had happened – keep an eye on the subtitles as he chats away, blood dripping from his mutilated mouth.

Miike gives him plenty more to do: set-piece follows set-piece as Kakihara and the audience gradually piece together Ichi’s true identity and history – the explanation may be surprisingly familiar to anyone who’s seen Memento. Miike keeps things going for a surprising length of time, but there’s an inevitable slight loss of steam in the latter stages, with too much time allotted to a third major character, ex-cop yakuza Kaneko (Shinya Tsukamoto). The final confrontation between Ichi and Kakihara is a bit of a letdown, and though Miike crafts a terrific, hilarious closing image (“Wow, this is great!!!” exclaims a character, plummeting towards death) he goes and spoils it by clagging on a couple of redundant extra scenes. How ironic that the cinema’s new poet of lethal sharp edges – and thus the true heir to Dario Argento – should still be in need of a little judicious pruning of his own.

31st October, 2001
(seen Oct-29-01, National Film Theatre – London Film Festival)

If you liked this film check out reviews of Miike’s others:
Audition
Dead or Alive

Or have a look at our Takshi Miike Director’s Lounge

by Neil Young

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