Ichi the Killer
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 September 2001

26th Toronto International Film Festival

As might be expected at the center of a film about the Yakuza, there's nearly always an archetypal hit man who takes a little too much joy in his work, and Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer doesn't disappoint. This one, named Kakihara (Tadonobu Asano), sports a bleached-blonde pompadour, as well as a taste for S&M. He is searching for a missing Yakusa boss named Anjo, both for the sake of "family" pride and power, but also because Anjo introduced him to the pleasures involved in receiving as well as giving pain (although Kakihara evidently still possesses a preference for the latter; there is one scene involving meat hooks and boiling oil which is best left to the imagination). Complete with a sadistic giggle which grates on the nerves, he's like a Japanese version of Tommy Udo, the villain from Henry Hathaway's 1947 noir classic, Kiss of Death (but at least he doesn't run around calling everyone "squirt").

While Kakihara is running around upsetting the yakusa social order, two mysterious figures enter his life. One is a erstwhile gangster named Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto) who might have information relevant to Anjo's disappearance, but he soon disappears before he can provide it. The second, and strangest of all, is a lummox named Ichi, whose behavior veers wildly between passive and homicidal. Equipped with a bodysuit emblazoned with a super-hero insignia, knives, and a vast knowledge of kung fu, Ichi is transformed into the savior who appears at the scene of the crime in the proverbial nick of time, or, rather, he would be, if he was more discriminate in his attacks. Once Kakahara discovers Ichi, the hit man's motives become less focused upon pursuing anyone who can assist him in locating Anjo.

After surviving 129 minutes of graphic depictions of violence that escalate to and beyond the points of comprehension and even tolerance, one has to ask whether Ichi the Killer is a legitimate forum for exploring human attitudes towards violence . The director has justified the level of violence he depicts in his films by saying that audiences aren't shocked enough by the content in films currently in release; this time, he may have just reached his own personal apogee. But, by doing so, is he raising yet again the usual questions about creating and perceptions of visual media that still remain outside the realm of consensus, such as the responsibilities of both artist and the public in creating violent art (i.e. is it not only a case of "if you build it, will they come," but also "they will come because you built it"?)? The answer really has to be no; on balance, the film is more exploitative than exploratory. Miike permits -- one might say, obliges -- the audience to witness the violence either through Kakahara's point of view, or from the neutral perspective of a middle-shot range. Thus, the film's attitude oscillates between sadism and indifference to suffering. This is not the comic, over-the-top violence seen in other Japanese films like Battle Royale: violence with a human dimension, one that is not necessarily symbolic, but one that does allow for development of relationships between others and a sense that something greater is at stake (The only duo who possess a mutual bond in Ichi is introduced and dispatched as quickly as possible, making Miike's priorities very clear.). To assert that Ichi the Killer possesses any sort of deeper message is to grant the film more credit than it deserves.

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Directed by:
Takashi Miike

Tadanobu Asano
Nao Omori
Shinya Tsukamoto
Paulyn Sun
Hiroyuki Tanaka

Written by:
Sakichi Satô
Hideo Yamamoto

NR - Not Rated.
This film has not
been rated.







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