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Ichi the Killer (2001)

Ichi the Killer, Koroshiya 1, Koroshiya Ichi

Ai wa, kanari itai. (Love really hurts.)

Rating: 10/10

Running Time: 122 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Based on a popular Japanese comicbook by Hideo Yamamoto, Takashi Miike’s controversial ‘Ichi the Killer’ translates perfectly all the manga’s energy, anarchy and illogic into the kinetic language of film.

When yakuza boss Anjo goes missing with 300 million yen, his loyal lieutenant Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) – a grinning fetishist who blows cigarette smoke out of the scars in his cheeks – will stop at nothing to find him, not least because Anjo has been the only one capable of satisfying Kakihara’s penchant for masochism. Kakihara’s brutal inquiry into the circumstances of Anjo’s disapppearance puts him on the bloody scent of Ichi (Nao Omori), a shy, mixed-up cry-baby who is being manipulated by the mysterious mesmerist Jiji (played, appropriately, by film director Shinya Tsukamoto) into slicing and dicing his way through Anjo’s gang in the belief that he is taking vengeance on bullies who tormented him as a child. As the corpses pile up, Kakihara and Ichi circle ever closer to one another, little realising that their insatiable drives are destined to be tragically frustrated.

Even by Miike’s standards of excess, ‘Ichi the Killer’ is not for the faint-hearted, with its frequent scenes of torture, dismemberment, rape and body horror. Yet tempting as it is to dismiss the film as little more than a stylish compendium of ultraviolent sensationalism made with Miike’s characteristic verve (and there is nothing wrong with that), this would be to ignore the film’s high level of sophistication and the incredible intellectual demands which it makes on viewers. For a start, one must work overtime just to follow the story, with its huge cast of carefully realised characters, its elliptical editing, complicated flashbacks, parallel scenes and its frequent shifts into sequences of dream or fantasy (it can even be argued that the entire film is one man’s doomed revenge fantasy) – and the enigmatic final images force viewers to reassess drastically everything that has preceded.

A subtle intelligence is also brought to bear on the scenes of violence, as Miike unsettles his viewers by not just showing abject brutality, but brutality that is being watched by a third party – in particular by the sadistic voyeur Ichi, whose arousal at the sight of any aggression offers an uncomfortable reflection of Miike’s own audience. The film dramatises how easily violent acts are learned, imitated, and misdirected, engendering endless cycles of vengeance where real satisfaction becomes impossible and disappointment inevitable. Ultimately ‘Ichi the Killer’ lays bare the contradictions in Japanese society’s rigid hierarchies of power, where it is necessary for the bullied and the humiliated to humiliate and bully others in order to become number one, and once you have reached the top, the only way is down.

‘Ichi the Killer’ is a bizarre sado-masochistic love story, an unnerving excursion into criminal and sexual extremes, and a comicbook explosion of lurid colours and freakish characters – but most of all, it is a furious, frenetic and at times very funny piece of bravura filmmaking, with outstanding performances, spectacular setpieces, dizzying moodswings, a killer soundtrack, and a mindbending conclusion.

Guaranteed to amaze, shock, disgust and intrigue in equal measure, ‘Ichi the Killer’ is one of the most striking films ever made. Unforgettable.

It's Got: A yakuza (played by Japanese indie heartthrob Tadanobu Asano) with an unnaturally big mouth and a very cool dress sense, a weeping anti-hero, corrupt twin policemen (one of whom dons fake dog-ears before sniffing out his suspects), a pimp split clean in half, tongue cutting, nipple slicing, entire rooms spattered in gore, and the only title sequence ever to emerge in 3D from a pool of the main characters sperm.

It Needs: To be released uncut in the UK. For shame, BBFC!

DVD Extras It is ironic that there should be an entire bonus DVD of extras when the film itself has been required by the BBFC to undergo cuts of just over three minutes. Disc 1 has options for subtitles or a dubbed version. Near the beginning of the thoroughly banal audio commentary, associate producer Eliot Tong states Im in no position to comment on this movie, it should be Miike, which unfortunately proves to be all too true, although Tong has more of interest to say than his fellow commentators, the critic Bey Logan and the actress Alien Sun (who declares er and yuk a lot). Tong reveals that all the sperm seen in the film came from Shinya Tsukamoto. Disc 2 has a gallery of lengthy, neatly packaged interviews with director Takashi Miike (more forthcoming here than he usually is), and actors Tadanobu Asano (I found some [scenes] a bit hard to stomach), Alien Sun (Im actually not a big fan of S&M) and Shinya Tsukamoto (on playing a character who was a mystery to me) - strangely no interview with Nao Omori (Ichi); a promotional archive, including trailers, electronic press kit, raw interview footage of Miike, behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes; Premier Asia promotional showcase; photo galleries (inc. Alien Sun glamour gallery); seven well-presented behind-the-scenes studies; eight pages of filmnotes and bios of Alien Sun, Miike, Tsukamoto and Asano (but not Nao Omori). DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


An absolute masterpiece of extreme filmmaking. Guaranteed to amaze, shock, disgust and intrigue in equal measure, 'Ichi the Killer' is one of the most striking films ever made. Unforgettable.