Directed by Takashi Miike Written by Hideo Yamamoto (comic), Sakichi Satô(screenplay). Starring Tadanobu Asano (Kakihara), Nao Ômori (Ichi), Shin'ya Tsukamoto (Jijii).
Bottom line: Ultra-violent but it's gimmicky because it doesn't offer anything insightful other than a depressing outlook on life.
Ichi the Killer (2001) is a film about a masochistic yakuza named Kakihara (Asano) as he looks for his boss who disappeared. He comes across Ichi (Ômori), a psychopath who, in the words of IMDB's description, “may be able to inflict levels of pain that Kakihara has only dreamed of.” If you Google for the poster for this movie, it is a little misleading (though I suspect it's intentional). The man with the Joker-like scars on the poster is Kakihara, not Ichi.
I should note that although I am writing this review today, I have seen this movie twice. I saw it once around when it came out, before I started thinking critically about movies. I didn't particularly like it then and, after watching it again last week, my feelings haven't changed. As a quick side note, I don't know what got into me that day. I woke up and watched Steven Seagal's ludicrous On Deadly Ground only to follow it up with Ichi the Killer. That's like waking up early to have a Taco Bell breakfast (they do that now) and have White Castle burgers for dinner - not good life choices.
Ichi the Killer is a movie that always seems to find a spot on lists of “most disturbing movies.” Its usual compatriots include August Underground (2001), Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975), Irreversible (2002) and (if the list maker knows what's up) Serbian Film (2010). Naturally, when someone says, “This is a disturbing movie. Don't see it.” I hear, “Check it out!”
“What's so disturbing,” I wonder. Violence? Sister, I've played too many video games and watched too many movies to be nauseated by violence. I once read a review by someone like Roger Ebert, though I seem to have trouble finding it now, who called this the “worst movie ever made.” In that review, the critic also said that “all the characters are pure evil.” Pure evil. What does that even mean?
After watching twice, I must say that yes indeed this movie is a violent one: blood sprays from slit throats, boiling oil is poured on people, and people are cut in half. Ichi the Killer based on a graphic novel and that stylized feel carries over. For this reason, I am a little confused as to what is supposed to be disturbing. I feel like watching the guy gets split in half is supposed to be extreme but the graphics are so low quality that it takes me out of the moment. Now, watching a man beat up a prostitute then rape her made me uncomfortable; it had just enough practical special effects (make up instead of computer graphics, that is) to make it realistic.
This movie has it's moments. I like the music and the costumes. There are some shots that drag on for a while but, for the most part, the cinematography is really energetic. I didn't really like any of the characters. I didn't see really much depth or growth. They are just coldly violent. The one character, for example, sighed with disappointment upon seeing his brother killed because “I looked forward to killing him one day.” Kakihara is the one exception. I really liked his style and, throughout the course of the movie, you come to understand his motivations.
After watching Ichi the Killer, I was sad not disgusted. This movie didn't particularly prompt for introspection it just made me reflect on the miserable lives of the characters in the movie. All I saw was death, pain, and heartache. I don't recommend Ichi the Killer. Not because it's disturbing but because it simply isn't worth your time or emotional investment.
If you want to see something disturbing but worth it watch Michael Haneke's 1997 film Funny Games. He once said that something is wrong with you if you sit through the entire thing. It's a commentary about violence in society and pop-culture today.
In the near future, I will write a post about Ichi the Killer and the positioning of the audience. That is, how are we supposed to react to all this violence? I will add a link to this post once it's finished.
Thanks for reading!