Based on Hideo Yamamoto‘s manga and directed by the iconic Takashi Miike, Ichi the Killer has a cult statusthat very few other ‘cult’ films enjoy.
As popular with audiences now as it was in 2001, Ichi has lost none of it’s power to mesmerise, horrify and shake-up the viewer.
Starring Tadanobu Asano (Thor, Zatoichi, Battleship, and in 2013 Thor 2), Asano is the closest thing Japan has to a superstar. His work on Ichi as the sadomasochist Kakiharo enabled him to “steal the show” and made him a cult favourite with fans.
Nao Ohmori (not as well known to western audiences, but a jobbing actor who has been working since 1997) played Ichi. Ichi is mentally unbalanced and finds violence sexually arousing. He has been brainwashed by Jijii - Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, Bullet Ballet) into believing that he witnessed a rape when he was younger and not only did he not help the girl, but he was aroused by it. Jijii convinces Ichi that he must kill the boys who perpetrated the rape and he points them out for Ichi.
The first ‘perpetrator’ is Anjo a Yakuza boss whose enforcer is Kakiharo. Ichi using the razor sharp blades in his boots, cuts Anjo into pieces and Jijii disposes of the body parts. Kakiharo wants to know where his boss is and suspects a rival Yakuza gang of killing or kidnapping him.
Jijii makes sure that Kakiharo suspects the rival gang in the hope that they will kill each other off, with Ichi’s help of course, and then he will run that area of town.
Ichi The Killer is typical Takashi Miike. Gallons of blood. Violent acts that the camera shows unflinchingly. And of course black humour crops up in every other scene.
Some of the violence is almost unwatchable. In one scene, Kakiharo is questioning another gang’s boss. They pierce the skin all along the back of his body and hang him face down from the ceiling. When Kakiharo does not get the information he wants, he pours boiling oil on the bosses back. The combination of the smoke, sizzling sounds and the victims screams make this one of the hardest scenes in the film to watch.
Yet Miike’s humour pervades the film. Whether it is Ichi gleefully telling a girl that he has saved from being beaten to death, by her boyfriend by killing him, that now he can beat her. She is, somewhat understandably, not thrilled by the proposition.
Or when one of Kakihuro’s minion decides that he doesn’t want to look for the missing boss Anjo any longer, Kakihuro slams a board with a nail in the end onto the minion’s foot. This action changes his mind and he decides he does still want to help Kakihuro and they all walk down the street, with the minion dragging the board that is still impaled in his foot.
And of course the most amusing of all is the reason that Kakihuro wants to find his boss. It turns out that no one else can give him the pain he desires like his boss.
This is classic Takashi Miike and one you definitely need to see, if you haven’t already.
- Film: The New Cult Canon: The horrible, hilarious violence of Ichi The Killer (avclub.com)
- Fudoh: The New Generation (1996): Cool Kiddie Crime (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- ‘Ai to Makoto (For Love’s Sake)’ (japantimes.co.jp)
- One Missed Call Film (imsaqrtu.typepad.com)