The walls are splattered with blood, the floor carpeted in guts. A deep red drips from the ceiling onto an unclothed man. One of the cleaning crew looks to his partner and asks, “What’s this guy Ichi like anyway?”
With the scene cleaned and cleared, it is assumed that the dead man, a key Yakuza member, took off with his girl and millions in yen. So begins a hunt lead by Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano, ELECTRIC DRAGON 80.000 V), a close associate and mentor who sports puffy blonde hair and a Glasgow smile. How close was he to the slayed man and how badly does he want to find those responsible? Well, his first order of business is kidnapping a supposed suspect and suspending him from his skin with chains. From there, he sticks a needle through his cheeks and pours boiling water on his back. But Kakihara, like the movie itself, is just getting started.
ICHI THE KILLER is a demonstration in excess–women are beaten and raped, tongues are cut, bodies are split in half, blood and guts are sprayed like a leaked hose, cheeks are ripped off, faces are removed, men are masturbating, etc. etc. etc.
There is a plot–the hunt eventually pits Ichi (Nao Omori, QUARTET), an apparently feeble-minded and easily manipulated man whose depravities are extreme to say the least, against Kakihara and more–but one-time viewers (how many revisit ICHI THE KILLER?) won’t take much note. This is a movie remembered for how much red it spills.
Directed by Takashi Miike (1999’s AUDITION) and adapted from Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, ICHI THE KILLER is relentless. It is vicious and violent, but it also offers something of an achievement. Few movies have attempted what is housed within, and Miike succeeds in making a memorable effort, a turbulent exercise that tries to up its own ante every moment it gets. (Perhaps it deserved an Oscar nomination for its makeup?–imagine seeing it pitted against LORD OF THE RINGS and MOULIN ROUGE! at the ceremony.)
ICHI THE KILLER is for moviegoers who want to see just how far certain filmmakers will take it. Miike, as expected, takes it where so few would. Aside from the sheer amount of cringe-inducing violence, Miike assaults the viewer with frantic cinematography and jarring editing. In that, it’s actually more than just here for shock value–although that is the initial draw for many. (Those actively seeking it out may have seen it on its many appearances on lists centered on the most controversial and violent films of all time.)
Still, for the viewer who wants anything resembling a plot will find ICHI THE KILLER lacking. What is there is, despite its turns and collection of characters, just plain not all that compelling. Maybe that was part of Miike’s point, that if a story dulls us we will be begging for blood. Or, more likely, it’s just not a well-written movie.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This transfer was a nice overall clarity to it, with fine details and often healthy and/or natural colors and tones.
Audio: Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English. The audio track offers clean dialogue, but does often feel less dimensional than fans may be hoping for.
Audio commentary with director Takashi Miike & manga artist/writer Hideo Yamamoto: Miike and Yamamoto offer a fine commentary, although fans will note it has been around for well over a decade.