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Ichi the Killer

Takashi Miike's blend of Yakuza-cool and taboo exploration turn to the realm of sadism and masochism in 2002's Ichi the Killer. In what can best be described as a comic-book mafia-film, the Japanese city of Shingoki is the home of a syndicate of gangs who rule the underworld. The story centers on the Anjo gang, of which the leader has mysteriously disappeared with three million yen. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) takes the reins and leads the hunt for their missing boss — he enjoyed the beatings Anjo would unleash on him, and he strongly desires to find him. Unfortunately, Anjo has already met his end at the sharpened foot of Ichi (Nao Ohmori), the mentally deficient (and sexually dysfunctional) crybaby who snaps into a homicidal rage when he's bullied. Behind the scenes of all the mayhem, Jiji (Shinya Tsukamoto) manipulates Ichi into doing his bidding by convincing him that members of the Yakuza are bullies who need to be punished. By day, Ichi spends his time huddled under a blanket playing video games. When unleashed on Jiji's enemies, he wears a black rubber suit reminiscent of an X-Men costume, with a bright yellow "1" on the back and razor-sharp blades in the shoes. Part of Jiji's control over Ichi comes from the story he's convinced Ichi is real — at a young age, he witnessed the rape of a girl named Tachibana. What tortured Ichi most is not that he didn't help her, but that the event itself left him (ahem) unexpectedly excited. This has had the unfortunate side-effect of making Ichi believe that he wants to hurt women, though he dreams of finding someone who enjoys it. Kakihara's scarred face is a testimony to his enjoyment of pain. Removing the rings on either side of his mouth reveals a gaping maw, a tool he uses to cause fear (and make some cool effects when he smokes a cigarette). His desire to feel pain is matched only by his skill is dealing it out — in one of the more brutal scenes, a Yakuza boss is hung to the ceiling with hooks, splashed with tempura, and then deep-fried. Ichi's brutality excites Kakihara, offering him a chance to be hurt in a way that's been missing in his life since Anjo's death. It's this sort of character-struggle that makes Miike's films so wonderful — characters dealing with their desire to hurt people, or their desire to be hurt, are not what we're used to seeing on screen. Ichi the Killer lacks some of the humor that infects Miike's other work, but is near the top in terms of effects and pacing. The original 126-minute version can be a little disconcerting; this 117-minute cut doesn't necessarily make the film more accessible (it's only 9 minutes, after all). The violence and sexual issues are going to be a bit much for casual viewers, although the violence is so over the top that it's hard to take seriously, and at times the action is fairly amusing. Miike is one of the more prolific filmmakers working today, and anyone who enjoys art that can offend and disturb while it entertains would be remiss to avoid his work. Tokyo Shock has released the less-controversial cut on a DVD that's light on features. For the most part, some of the more violent acts committed in the film are implied or shortened, removing some of Yuichi Matsui's excellent effects work. Interestingly, the title is never actually seen in the film — the original version's title sequence was cut. While it's agreed that the original title was a tad grotesque, it also immediately set the tone, and that's been lost to viewers of this version. That said, Ichi is still an amazingly gory movie, with enough blood and flying limbs to seem like a clear influence on Tarantino's Kill Bill. The DVD contains English subtitles, as well as an English dub. Four trailers are also included. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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