Ichi the Killer
review by Carrie Gorringe, 21 September
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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NR - Not Rated.
This film has not