This is The Killer Inside Me week (or last week as I have fallen behind but I will be back-dating this and should be caught by tomorrow evening). Ichi the Killer is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Ichi the Killer (2001) – Netflix shows this as both rated R and as unrated.
“When his “mentor in crime” disappears, blond-coiffed Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) vows to find out who is responsible. But he is also on the lookout for Ichi (Nao Omori), a sadistic killer who may be able to inflict the level of pain Kakihara so badly craves. Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike takes inspiration from Hideo Yamamotos manga, Koroshiya 1, to tell this bloody and bleak tale about the inner workings of the Japanese yakuza.”
“Listen, when you are giving pain to someone, do not think about the pain that person is feeling. Just concentrate on how good it feels to be causing someone pain. That is the best thing you can do for a true masochist!”
Takashi Miike is one of those directors that is definitely an acquired taste. He has a wonderful visual sense but his films are often purposefully unpleasant. Audition (currently available on instant Netflix) is a wonderful film but it is not really an enjoyable one.
Ichi the Killer has a rape scene in the first few minutes which is normally anathema to my enjoyment of a movie. I do not mind if the director kills off the entire cast of a movie even graphically but rape scenes make me squirm in my seat – even if my wife and daughter are not watching the film with me.
A voyeur is busy watching from the balcony and I mean busy as a polite euphemism for something graphic.
The killings and torture in the movie are constant and grotesque but quite inventive. Violence or the threat of it is present in every frame of the film. Almost every character in the film is a sadist, a masochist, or both.
It seems a missed opportunity that this is called Ichi as Ichi means one. The character of Ichi is pretty much a cipher through most of the film so a more appropriate name would appear to be zero (or the Japanese equivalent).
Despite the picture that accompanies this review and pretty much every other mention of Ichi, it is not a picture of Ichi but of Kakihara, the other main character. One of the more hilarious scenes in this film is of Kakihara smoking.
Taken out of context, the rape scenes would seem extremely misogynistic and Japanese cinema is certainly not known for a progressive treatment of women. However in context they seem to fit quite well with the grindhouse aesthetic on display here.
The climax is wonderful though the ending itself is quite ambiguous as it is open to several interpretations. The plot is almost incidental to the sleazy exploration of sadomasochism.
Tadanobu Asano does a wonderful job of conveying the smug Kakihara who only comes alive when he is inflicting pain or having it inflicted upon him. Nao Omori is befittingly blank as Ichi.
I am giving this a WATCH recommendation though a very guarded one. Watch at your own risk – this is a very brutal and over the top film, pretty much a Takashi Miike trademark. Do not bother watching unless you have a yen for black humor or want to see a modern descendant of grindhouse exploitation.
People Watch: Paulyn Sun, who plays Karen in the film is quadrilingual in real life so her dialogue is in three of her languages (English, Japanese, and Cantonese). She was Miss Singapore of 1994 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant.