Story: The boss of the Anjo-Gang has disappeared along with a bunch of cash after being visited by a prostitute,
who has gone missing, too. The right hand of the boss, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), along with his gang, therefore goes
on a search for his boss, despite the rumors that he might not be alive anymore. However, it gets from bad to worse
when suddenly members of the gang are butchered one after another. The man behind all of this, who is also
responsible for the murder of the gangster boss, is the killer Ichi (Nao Omori). Ichi is, even though different in his
nature, as psychopathic as Kakihara is. A duel between both of them seems to be unavoidable...
Review: "Ichi" is in many respects a movie of extremes. Either you love it or you hate it. There is nothing in
between. Oftentimes it is criticized that Takashi Miike's work is merely a splatter movie without any substance.
However, I - as well as many other critics, too, by the way - can't support this opinion.
"Ichi" is brutal. No, actually the movie is a superlative of brutality. The amount of blood, body parts and bowels, that are thrown at you at ten seconds intervals is just the tip of the iceberg and won't be the number one problem for you at all. Yet, it is strongly advised that you only watch this movie if you don't have a weak stomach, because otherwise you won't be able to endure until we get to the deeper meaning of the film (yes, there is actually a deeper meaning!).
What's really brutal is the amount of sadistic and masochistic scenes, of which there are numerous ones. Kakihara's inventive ways of torturing his victims is at least as shocking as the sexuell violence.
The plot is rather simple and leaves enough space for lots of kinky and quirky characters. Every single person has its own story to tell and in the end it all becomes somewhat of a whole. Every side character is finely written and shines in its own way. The actors do their share to make the film work out as good as it does. Every one makes use of his screen-time and tries to make a lasting impression on the viewer. The somewhat good bodyguard Kaneko, cheerfulness-radiating prostitute Karen, the ageing Takayama who doesn't think of his gangster life as he used to and maybe wants to quit, the police officers Jiro and Saburo or the always string-pulling Jijii are very fascinating to watch and convince in every way.
Introducing so many persons, of which every one has his own peculiarities, it seems pretty obvious what Takashi Miike wanted to deliver with his film: a character study. The main focus of the movie, at least according to the title, lies on the killer Ichi. Ichi's suppressed and by Jijii directed and controlled sick sexuell fantasies make him do awful things, that he actually doesn't want to do. Jijii experimented with the very strong psychosis and morbid desires of Ichi by using hypnosis, thus making him a real killing machine. That's the reason why Ichi, despite his butchering of human beings somehow remains pitiable. At the same time it's also that generally we don't care about the persons he kills. It's just not possible that Ichi slaughters the wrong person in this dark-nihilistic world! Here, everyone is a "bad guy" with a mentally disturbed mind, the one way or the other. But that's also what makes it so fascinating to explore the world of "Ichi".
For some people it might be a little bit irritating that there is no protagonist you can sympathize with, but with time you should be able to deal with it.
Tadanobu Asano as Kakihara steals everybody, even Ichi, the show. His fascination for pain and SM is conveyed in a wickedly well portrayed manner. For example, he just searches for his boss, because he has some kind of love relationship with him, for his boss was the only person who really could inflict pain on him.
In a manner of speaking Kakihara is just someone who is looking for his place in this world. Of course, he's got every screw loose there is, yet Tadanobu Asano manages in a strange way to ignite a spark of understanding in the viewer.
Miike draws a dark and sick gangster world, in which everything that happens seems to be meaningless. However, that's exactly Takashi's intention, alongside with the exploration of the morbid characters. His antagonistic world is supposed to be provocating and arousing. What's the sense in all of this? Is there really a meaning to it? If you get a "no" as an answer way too soon, then this movie definitely isn't for you.
Apart from spilled blood the film is also overflowing with dark humour and a good portion of cynicism. This self-critical humour attenuates the otherwise unbearable violence to an endurable intensity. It is really apparent that "Ichi" is actually based on a Japanese manga. That's because the movie manages, in spite of all the serious character exploration, to give the viewer a wink every now and then.
Visually "Ichi" is also pretty outstanding. Takashi Miike's handwriting is always recognizable in the experimental camera work and nice shots. He manages to keep the film capriciously moving even when shooting with a shaky hand camera. There is no stagnancy, but a neverending roller coaster ride of violence. Even the more quiet scenes still have a certain dynamic to it.
Moreover, the special effects and make up are very good, which makes the violence look even more realistic, of course.
The only real weak point or rather a controversial subject is the ending, which delivers no real climax. It's more like it is intentionally avoided to make the ending thrilling. The last pictures of the movie will leave you behind a little bit confused. Only after accurate thinking and interpreting there can actually manifest a reasonable ending on screen. Or maybe a meaningful ending was never Miike's intention? That's absolutely possible, too, and so it's up to you what you can get out of the movie.
"Ichi The Killer" is no eye candy. This is a ride to the deepest bottom of human mind, which is the more distressing as it is depicted very realistically. The sadism and the violence we get too see are disturbing and make you reflect a lot.
Nonetheless, even if you don't want or just can't dive into the deeper levels of the film, there is still one hell of a bloody splatter orgy that you have to see to believe it. That is if you can deal with it.
Anyway, this movie will divide the audience. There will be those who just can't stop praising the film and then there will be those who can't get enough of criticizing it. It's really worth it to find out on which side you are!