AKA: Koroshiya Ichi
Genre: Ultraviolence/Crime Drama/Horror
Year Released: 2001
Distributor: Tokyo Shock
Running Time: 128 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: 1-Ichi, Ichi the Killer: Episode 0
For Fans Of: The Audition, Battle Royale, Gantz, Lady Snowblood
- This review is based on the uncut special edition.
-Ichi the Killer is banned in Malaysia, Germany, and Norway. If you watch or buy this movie in Norway, you can be fined and/or arrested.
-The main character Kakihara is played by Tadanobu Asano. You might know him for playing Hogun in the Thor movies. Yes, a guy who played one of Thor’s compatriots is also the same person who portrayed a scarred-up sadomasochistic sociopathic Yakuza gangster.
-The film was scored by members of the noise/experimental band Boredoms.
-Ichi the Killer takes place in the city of Shibuya, but in the original manga, it specifically mentions it being in Kabukicho which is a section of that city. Kabukicho was supposed to be the name of a kabuki theater venue, but it was never built. Want to know what that area is famous for? It’s notorious for being a red-light district with love hotels, brothels, and Yakuza-based crime. If you’ve seen this movie before, then the environment makes even more sense given the atmosphere and aesthetics.
-Anyone who knows basic Japanese knows that Ichi literally means one. That explains why Ichi wears a suit with that number painted on his back.
I enjoy Japanese cinema. I’m not ashamed to admit that. Why do you think I’ve posted several reviews with live-action movies and anime series from that country? I’ve been familiar with the works of several animators and some live-action directors (Kurosawa being a major figure). However, I haven’t delved too much into the filmography of the controversial Korean-Japanese filmographer Takashi Miike with one of his most famous movies Ichi the Killer.
Ichi the Killer is a movie that deals with a brutal mystery. The leader of the Anjo Yakuza syndicate was supposedly murdered and the apartment where the kill took place was almost disturbingly clean despite being loaded with gore earlier. Anjo’s enforcer Kakihara and the rest of the gang figure out what’s going on while torturing and killing other people in the underworld along the way. The murder was done by an assassin named Ichi. The thing about him is that he’s a total crybaby. However, if he gets furious, a kill switch goes off in his brain and he becomes a pure sadistic killer who dismembers people with his bladed-heel boots (yes, really).
I learned that Takashi Miike did a ton of violent works, and they certainly weren’t lying. People get beheaded, sliced open, lose body parts, and offed in ways that I’ve never seen before in any other movies. It gets really cartoonish while being one of the most goriest movies I’ve seen so far. I’d even say that Ichi the Killer makes Battle Royale look like something out of PBS Kids with the violence that happens and that’s not even getting into some of the sexual content. Miike doesn’t pull any punches in the blood and guts department when people fight or murder each other.
There’s the characters, and oh boy are they some of the most insane bunch out there. Kakihara is totally off his rocker. He enjoys getting hurt and dares people to hit really hard. One point, he tells an opponent that his “punches have no love” despite getting haymakers to the face. He has a bunch of scars on his face which also includes a Glasgow smile. In the beginning, you see him smoking and some of the smoke exita through his slitted grin which made my skin crawl. Truth be told, that was one of the TAMER things about that character. Opposite him is Ichi who’s the reluctant, yet highly effective assassin. He would rather play Tekken Tag Tournament on his Playstation 2 than go ahead and fight in real life. Ichi was a character that I wanted to get some kind of redemption angle given his “history” with bullies while being told his targets are like the people who bullied him in high school, but a certain flashback of his and how he reacted to the situation just turned me off. That’s saying nothing about his debut scene where the less said about it, the better. One of the most oddly sympathetic characters is Suzuki. Sure, he’s a crime lord, but he spends most of the movie bandaged up after Kakihara suspends Suzuki’s naked body with meat hooks, gets stabbed, and has boiling hot tempura oil poured on him. The crazy part was that he was innocent and had nothing to do with the murder of Anjo. Jijii was a surprise character. He seems like some nonchalant informer for the gang, but there was a lot more to him than meets the eye and he ends up being a master manipulator with several events going on.
I do appreciate how there’s a legit plot in Ichi the Killer, but it’s hard to get invested in several characters because several of them do horrible things. These characters are way past the anti-hero spectrum and would be considered villain protagonists at best. The only innocent character is Takeshi (hey, that name isn’t far off from the director’s own name). He’s a boy who gets rescued by Ichi when he was bullied by other kids. He becomes inspired to fight back proclaiming “I’ll grow strong and get revenge!”. He’s actually a likable character, but he’s only a background player in a story involving Yakuza members, pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, rapists, and corrupt cops. When you can’t sympathize with the main characters, then who can you sympathize with?
One argument I hear from fans of Ichi the Killer and some of Miike’s other ultraviolent works is that the violence is used as a critique. To be fair, I agree that the movies shouldn’t be censored, I’ll give them that much. I understand that the violence is gruesome and incredibly brutal, but I don’t see it as some kind of special statement most of the time. There’s an argument to be made with the Takeshi character in the ending and what he goes through. The other moment that I thought would have more meaning would be Ichi’s rationale for killing some of the people. Him seeing himself as a cowardly crybaby while wanting to be a bully hunter was something that I could get behind. There was a time where I rooted for him to slaughter some gangsters who were worse than the bullies he “remembered” or even that pimp who beat and raped Sailor, but after finding out about how he was a pawn in a larger game and the sexually sadistic urges Ichi had, I thought the message with his character arc rang hollow. Sure, it made Jijii look even more threatening in hindsight (spoiler averted), but Ichi’s development shouldn’t have been sacrificed. The violence itself was very disgusting more often than not. I can handle bloody movies, but I had to cover my eyes a couple of times. You know Ichi the Killer pushes the boundaries when a close-up scene of Kakihara slicing off part of his own tongue is one of the less brutal moments.
Ichi the Killer is a brutal mess. I get that it’s supposed to be a brutal movie, but the plotting and direction are inconsistent. Most of the characters are unlikable and it’s hard to root for some of them. The visuals are alright, but some badly dated CGI was used for the death scenes. Even some of the bloodbaths looked so fake that it made Lady Snowblood look realistic in comparison. I just found several elements disgusting and I wish there was more meaning, but they sacrifice it for more gore and sensationalism.
Adjustable Point System
Add 2-3 points if you really like blood and gore in movies
Add 1 point if you like Yakuza flicks
Subtract 2 points if you can’t handle gore or sexual situations
-Takeshi’s character arc despite being a secondary character
-Good plot twists including the ones with Jijii
-Great soundtrack mixing experimental elements
-Horrible dated CGI
-Unlikable main characters; severe protagonist centered morality
-Sacrifices story for gory things at times when it shouldn’t
Final Score: 3/10 points
Content Warning: ABSOLUTELY NOT FOR KIDS! Did I mention that this is a very violent movie? Characters catch bodies left and right in the most nauseating ways that would would give slasher movie directors chills. There’s some sexual content with some of the women getting raped as plot points. People also use hard drugs like heroin as they shoot up like it’s nothing. There’s a ton of strong language, but that’s some of the tamer objectionable things in Ichi the Killer. Then there’s Ichi’s opening scene where he’s peeping and well, just make sure you’re not eating anything when it happens.
Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.