Ichi The Killer (2001)

May 12, 2003 • Film, Reviews

[dir: Takashi Miike; writers: Sakichi Sat (screenplay),
Hideo Yamamoto (II) (manga Koroshiya 1)]

Cast: Tadanobu Asano (Kakihara), Nao Omori (Ichi), Shinya Tsukamoto (Jijii), Paulyn “Alien” Sun (Karen), Susumu Terajima (Suzuki), Shun Sugata (Takayama), Toru Tezuka (Fujiwara), Yoshiki Arizono (Nakazawa), Kee (Ryu), Satoshi Niizuma (Inoue), Suzuki Matsuo (Jiro), Hiroyuki Tanaka (Kaneko (as Sabu), Moro Morooka (Cofee Shop Manager), Houka Kinoshita (Sailor’s Lover)


ichi192_1Fast on its way to becoming a cult phenomenon, ICHI THE KILLER is the most gleefully vomitous, strenuous, and hilarious movie in wild-man director Takashi Miike’s oeuvre. Coming from the man who regularly shows us yakuza sniffing mile-long lines of cocaine, women sticking needles into a man’s eyelids, fatal ping-pong matches and little claymation monsters that emerge from soup and rip out restaurant patrons tongues, this is saying something. But ICHI lives up to the hype, proving itself to be more gut-wrenching, more stupifyingly silly, and ever more aggravating every minute that it plays.

It’s the story of a deeply misogynist and repressed young martial artist who goes around cutting up the local Yakuza with a razor blade attached to his boot. This in itself makes for Miike’s most promising storyline, but the fact that a search for Ichi is carried out by insane masochist Yakuza Kakihara (Asano Tadanobu) turns the movie into a devilish journey into hell, moving past the grim realities of the criminal world into a truly insane, surreal landscape of violent imagery. That Kakihara would start randomly torturing people for information on Ichii turns out to be extremely funny. That his search for Ichi is synonymous with his search for pain turns out to be really interesting. But before it seems too deep, keep in mind that Miike is mostly interested in the pain itself. He doesn’t try too hard to read more into it. And in the torture scenes (most of which reveal nothing to Kakihara: no one knows anything about Ichi, and it seems Kakihara is more interested in the tortures themselves than it their results) we see Miike in his element, tearing apart everything in his path, from plot to character. The middle portion of ICHI
is simply an orgy of pain, a session which has left audiences at film festivals around the world screaming for more.

ichi192_3ICHI boasts one of the most exciting and diverse casts in recent Japanese movies, incorporating talent from behind the camera as well as in front of it. Cult director Sabu plays an ex-cop-turned-yakuza-thug and director Shinya Tsukamoto, famous the world over for his own rapturously psychotic movies like “Tetsuo: the Iron Man” plays the true villain of the piece (though it must be said that the full and total cast of ICHI is made up exclusively of villains). Also appearing in a substantial role is Hong Kong actress Pauline “Alien” Sun, the up-and-coming actress who displayed the back of her head quite memorably as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s wife in Wong Kar-Wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE. But we spend the lion’s share of the film with Kakihara, who is played adeptly by Tadanobu Asano, the rebel rock star/actor who has been raging against the machine in recent pictures like ELECTRIC DRAGON 880,000 VOLTS, SHARKSKIN MAN & PEACH HIP GIRL, GOHATTO, and PICNIC. Asano is in the zone, playing Kakihara as a dazed fallout victim; Kakihara navigates the delicate world of gangland politics and maniac killers in an existential haze, carrying out acts of astonishing depravity in a kind of lackluster slump, all the while longing for the exquisite heights of pain his former boss (Ichi’s first victim) inflicted upon him.

The thrill of watching ICHI THE KILLER comes when the audience starts applauding the torture scenes with shouts like “more pain!” It’s a movie that appeals to all the sicko impulses in the human psyche and allows us to laugh along in a kind of vicarious enjoyment. It’s maybe the definitive Takashi Miike movie: a film which abandons every convention of ordinary movies and focuses entirely on the most excessive indulgences in gore and glee.


Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shinya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Toru Tezuka, Kee, Suzuki Matsuo, Jun Kunimura, Hiroyuki Tanaka

Script: Sakichi Sato, based on the comic “Koroshiya 1” by Hideo Yamamoto
Producers: Akiko Funatsu, Dai Miyazaki

Language: Japanese
Running Time: 129 min

MidnightEye Miike Interview
KFC Cinema review



“When yakuza Boss Anjo disappears without warning, pierced-psycho-to-the-extreme Kakihara leads the search, inflicting the most hideous of mutilations on other yakuza suspects, as well as himself, to prove his loyalty to the organization. Through a club hostess, Kakihara learns of the existence of the near-mythic “Ichi”, an evasive killing machine clad in black armour with a berserker temperament as fatal as his martial arts prowess and twin razors. Ichi is no noble Dark Knight — he kills not for justice, but for the psycho-sexual kick he gets from the act of vengeance, in his underdeveloped mind, payback to the childhood “bullies” who forged his cowardly, boy-man exterior. Given his targets by an elderly former gangster (who cleverly uses the boy as an unwilling personal hit man), Ichi butchers without discrimination or restraint, like Frankenstein’s monster, even his most sincere attempts at tender gestures result in snapped limps and severed heads…Truly, one of the most repulsive films I’ve ever seen. It’s also screamingly hilarious, if you have any energy to chuckle between retching, flinching, and doubting your sanity.”

—Robert L., Movie Forum

“The film is named after a blubbering hit man with a dark childhood secret and a rape fetish. Ichi (Nao Omori) is in thrall to a hypnotist who makes him believe that various yakuza enemies are the bullies who tormented him as a schoolboy. Among his targets are Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a masochist and body-modification enthusiast whose boss (and dominator) is found dead at the beginning of the film, precipitating a near gang war as Kakihara tries to pin the crime on a rival boss whom he tortures severely. (Tetsuo director Shinya Tsukamoto plays Jijii, the hypnotist pulling Ichi’s puppet strings.)

For a time, Ichi the Killer rivals Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD in terms of the sheer volume of clever violence on display. The gore is overwhelming; Ichi has blades on his shoes that allow him to cleave a man in two, or take a killing slice out of a woman’s neck, with one neat whip of his leg. Most definitely not for general audiences, Miike’s film models itself on fantastic comic-book violence and revels in the grossout.”

—Bryant Frazer, Deep Focus

“Twenty minutes into Takashi Miike’s latest, visceral opus Ichi the Killer, I had to stop the film in fear of going mad from the mayhem I was witnessing. A violent opera of sadism filled with mutilated yakuza, masochistic prostitutes, and innocent victims caught up in a swath of incendiary revenge, Ichi the Killer is nothing short of a masterpiece — and a challenging one.”

—Max Messier,

“With “Ichi the Killer”, Takashi Miike, Japan’s wildest filmmaker gives us a crime fighter carrying more emotional baggage than Batman…”

—Eric Campos, Film Threat

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