You should avoid Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent Ichi the Killer (2001) if you have a sensitive stomach at the sight of blood. Needless to say, and as you might be able to tell from its title, it is a very bloody adventure. It tells the story of reluctant murderer Ichi (Nao Omori) and his involvement in the yakuza (also known as the Japanese mafia) in-fighting throughout Tokyo. Alongside this, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), one of the yakuza, is desperately hunting down the killer of his boss, and taking a lot of pleasure in doing so. Will their paths cross? If you’re ready for a film that is incredibly violent and disgusting, then you should watch to find out!
The first thing I should say about this film is a reiteration of the fact that if you don’t like violent films, gory films, films with a gratuitous amount of torture and blood: Don’t watch this! Ichi the Killer is based off a manga series of the same name, which is just as violent as the film. The fact that the film is based off a manga partially explains the sheer cartoonishness of the amount of blood on screen. Blood gushes, or waterfalls, out of peoples’ bodies in such a typical anime-style that I was able to understand the violence from that perspective, as an avid watcher of anime during my teenage years. It really does look like a cartoon and is clearly intended in this way. However, this may be interpreted totally differently by someone who isn’t as aware of the conventions of anime/manga violence. So, beware!
Overall, the film is quite compelling despite the huge amount of violence and murder. Behind its violent facade, the film has a pretty intriguing story that has enough twists and turns and ambiguous moments to keep the viewer guessing. Some parts are quite funny. Takashi Miike has a sick sense of humour which actually works with this film.
My love for Tadanobu Asano was reinforced as a result of his performance as crazy-faced yakuza Kakihara in this film. He is such a great actor, even as he is cutting off his own tongue or murdering bunches of people at a time. His performance is a total 180 when compared with his quirky uncle role in The Taste of Tea (2004), or his Unpopular With Women Brother role in Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005). His character’s level of disturbance is akin to his role in Love & Pop (1998). Yep, I’m becoming a Tadanobu Asano aficionado/fangirl all right.
One thing I absolutely hated about Ichi the Killer was not its gratuitous violence, but its sexual gaze of women who are being tortured or otherwise killed. Ichi does become aroused when committing violent crimes against women, and I am assuming that we are meant to view this violence from his perspective during these moments. However, I can’t tolerate that. The camera lingers on parts of the womens’ bodies that are meant to be attractive, but we are watching as they are being brutally murdered or dismembered. None of the violence against men is intended to be viewed in a sexual way. I might just be particularly sensitive to this (for more info about that, see my about page), but I can’t really imagine any film where a sexualised image of violence against women can be justified.
As with Takashi Miike’s other films, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful and his shots of Japanese streets, shops, and homes are very appealing to the eye. Even the art direction in the massive murder scenes is quite beautiful in its grotesqueness.
The film ends on a bit of an anticlimactic note. After being subjected to all manner of excessive violent and bloody acts throughout the film, the final battle is more efficient and ‘clean’. However, one wonders whether this was the director’s intention. We are primed to normalise and accept the gratuitous violence throughout the film, and become used to blood gushing everywhere. When we finally see a murder on screen that is more ‘normal’ or realistic, it has the tendency to seem a bit underwhelming. However, in thinking this, we have to understand that we have been completely manipulated. Damn you Takashi Miike!
My last and final warning: Really, if you become sick at the sight of blood, don’t watch this. I feel I need to say this a couple of times to reinforce just how crazily violent this one is. However, once you get past that, Ichi the Killer is a really interesting crime film with a good plot, although it does have an unfortunate tendency to sexualise violence against women. Watch this if you are big into Japanese film, or if you like what you’ve seen of Takashi Miike’s other works. It has a really interesting perspective on yakuza that you won’t see elsewhere. Despite its blood and gore, Ichi the Killer is a film that you won’t forget.
Watch the trailer here.