Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ichi the Killer (2001)

Kakihara, a notoriously sadistic yakuza enforcer, sets out to find out who killed his boss Anjo. His journey leads him to heading his gang, alienating the rest of the yakuza, and following just behind Ichi, an enigmatic killer who seems like Kakihara's worthy adversary. He has no idea that Ichi himself is a brainwashed, manipulated manchild and the people pulling his strings have plans for Kakihara.

Takashi Miike's more famous movies are known for being offputting, odd, and extreme. Ichi the Killer is no different, starting off with a brutal scene that lays out what's in store for the viewer and challenging them to continue. The non-sexual violence in this film has a cartoonish element that covers most of them with blood and gore and brings comedy with its over the top, campy nature. We see the aftermath of Ichi's encounter with members of Anjo's gang with viscera coating the entire room and even a face sliding down the wall.

These scenes contrast greatly with the sexual violence directed towards the sex workers of this world. The abuse and assaults they experience at the hands of powerful men is truly horrible to watch and realistically portrayed. They have no power or agency in this underground world with no hope to escape the abuse. One of the most harrowing scenes is when Sailor, with an already beaten face, is brutalized by her pimp and saved by Ichi. He offers to beat and rape her instead, causing her to laugh at the horror of it and attack him in desperation. Even Karen, the woman with the most agency, tries to manipulate Ichi and meets the same end as so many other women in this film. The seriousness of these scenes gives them much more gravity and shows the plight of these women.

The two main characters of this film also contrast in interesting ways. Kakihara is a sadomasochist who will do anything for Anjo, his boss. This role could have been very stereotypically acted, but Tadanobu Asano plays him with such a nonchalance. He has moments where he laughs at others pain like when poring whatever over a man suspended with hooks, but a lot of his moments are when he takes in crazy scenes without so much as a shrug. One scene in particular is made hilarious because of his reaction compared with everyone else's reaction. Kakihara tortures an innocent man and cuts off his tongue in penance, handing it to the yakuza bosses. They freak out and try to get away from it and then Kakihara mumbles that he's taking over Anjo's gang, answers a phonecall, and then leaves while they are still reeling as if they don't matter. These moments are as iconic as the characters colorful outfits and facial scars.

Ichi, on the other hand, is the most annoying character by far. He is aroused by violence towards women and violence in general. An old man Jijii has brainwashed him to believe he's related to people or had experiences to motivate him to kill Anjo and his gang one by one. However, Ichi is incredibly unstable. He could slice a crowd of people into ribbons in seconds or he could just stand and cry instead, allowing a child to kick him, because he's being hypnotized and manipulated by someone else. Kakihara sees the aftermath of his attacks and imagines an epic battle with a worthy adversary. He's been bored and nothing seems to challenge him anymore, so he chases after Ichi as if it's a game. To me, Ichi is the lowest of the low and I hate everything about him. However, his character challenges the viewer to see why they consume media like this film and if they are like Ichi themselves.

Ichi the Killer is a subversive film that is hard to watch at many moments. The off the wall weird or gory moments contrast with the more serious, harrowing scenes of sexual violence to make a unique cinematic experience. I watched this in 4k with the director's cut recently. One or two plot holes were filled, but it was much the same. Hearing a large crowd react to the film and seeing it on the big screen was fun. I would recommend this film if you already like films like it. I don't see it talked about as much as Audition and I find it a more watchable movie.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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