Friday, September 18, 2009

Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001)

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan: in and around a highrise tower, Yakuza Mansion, a wonderfully dysfunctional group of criminals resides: scarred, pierced, bleached, and decadently-dressed Kakihara, played by Tadanobu Asano, stands out from other yakuza. His boss, Anjo, has gone missing. Suzuki, an ex-policeman, who lost his pistol and got discharged, wanted to guard Boss Anjo's room, even though he was just getting laid. Suzuki has a small son who often cries for his daddy to come home. Jijii runs an outcast crew of perverts, and as Karen, Boss Anjo's sometimes girl says, "they do all the dirty deeds." Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto) and his crew are waiting in a van outside of Anjo's apartment for Ichi. Ichi's watching a pimp brutally beat and rape a prostitute before Ichi goes to brutally murder Anjo in his apartment. Jijii's crew cleans up Ichi's mess, and Kakihara sets out to find his boss: not so much because Anjo's leadership is missing, but rather Kakihara misses Anjo's delivery of pain. As much as Kakihara loves dishing out the torture, he loves more to receive it. Reluctant crybaby Ichi hates to deliver it, but as the circumstances unfold in Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001), Kakihara really goes looking for Ichi, whose going to cut just about everybody to shreds on the way to meet him. Ain't Kakihara excited.Ichi the Killer is a film which truly defies verbal description. Words cannot do justice to Miike's parade of atrocities and perversions in one of this young century's most transgressive films. Based upon an infamous manga by Hideo Yamamoto (not one panel of which I've seen), Miike's film presents a cinematic Tokyo which few have seen: the most arresting and daring visual compositions, presented seemingly through a filter of filth, where the characters engage in Miike's words "an insane struggle between unsocial criminals" and a "film about love."
Ichi's opening flies into action on the streets of Shinjuku, accompanied by Seiichi Yamamoto's phenomenal soundtrack, in a bizarre sequence of street life, punctuated by the spinning of gears of Ichi's bicycle, as the nastiness pops in and out. Sabu's Suzuki sets the scene: "Shouldn't we keep guard outside the boss's apartment?" The action is waiting only for Ichi: Jijii and his crew are waiting for him to do his wetwork. Ichi is too busy watching the pimp pummel the prostitute. Some semen drips off the plant outside the pimp's window, and from this seed, the film's title seethes out.
Night or day, Ichi has a soft look with a dingy hue. The city might not be dirty but Miike's going to make it look that way. Miike envisioned his film in manga form and making a movie directly from it. However Ichi's creator, Hideo Yamamoto, was unable to complete the task and relatively unknown Sakichi Sato was brought in to write the script. The origin of the images might have started in one mind and moved through others, but when the images were rendered by Miike, their power is felt by the viewer. Some scenes are just odd, as when a pants-less man is seen running through the streets, covering his manlihood with a newspaper, as two give chase, while passers-by act as if nothing is out of the ordinary. In one of the the best visual sequences, Kakihara, accompanied by Saburô (one of a pair of nasty twins played by Suzuki Masuo), go to one of Ichi's cohort's, Long, hideouts: behind a window, backlit by neon, is shown the shadow of the furry-eared outline of Saburô. Predator finds his prey when Long opens the window and cue Yamamoto's music and a frenetic chase begins in the dark claustrophobic house. Long falls fortuituously from the top floor to the bottom, where he exits to meet Kakihara watering a plant in the alleyway. The films slows when Long meets Kakihara, and the two have a small squabble that has to be seen to be believed. Scenes of Ichi walking the streets in his superhero outfit, black, heavily-padded, and with a big number one on the back, are disorienting-ly beautiful: the light fluctuates from underexposed to overexposed, while all the while the yellow one continues to glow. Ichi the Killer was shot by Hideo Yamamoto (same name and no relation to the creator of the Ichi manga) and is masterfully executed.Much has been written about Ichi's perverse and perverted scenes of sex and violence, and I will forgo any description of those to save for Ichi's brave viewer. With a runtime of two-plus hours, filled with some serious kink and gory violence, beyond the visceral, does Ichi the Killer have any other appeal? Yes, Ichi is aesthetically beautiful and masterfully well-crafted. My favorite sequence of the movie (and Miike's most creatively rendered) has little violence and no sex. A man in seen kicking Ichi in an alleyway (played by screenwriter Sakichi Satô). Sabu's Suzuki is walking through and after noticing Ichi getting a beating, he shoos the man away. He picks Ichi up off the ground and buys him a bowl of noodles. Although they are looking for each other to kill, each does not know who the other is. Suzuki shows pity on Ichi and Nao Omori's Ichi is pitiful: very much like a child in an adult body. Suzuki's pity is shown, because before, after Suzuki had been kicked shamefully out of the police, Boss Anjo bought Suzuki a bowl of noodles out of pity. Anjo gave Suzuki a yakuza position and earned his undying loyalty. Despite the escalating danger and Suzuki's impending death by Ichi, Suzuki remains loyal to his boss for this act of kindness. The scene is rendered perfectly by Miike: seamlessly cut from present time to flashbacks showing Suzuki and Ichi to Suzuki and Anjo, with Kakihara in the background, to Suzuki with his small son, telling him about his new life with the yakuza. In fact, Suzuki and his dissolving relationship with his son gets quite a bit of screen time. What's the point? Miike's film really is, as he said before, a "film about love." Behind the extreme and outrageous behavior is a story about the outsiders (a group of folks who get mad, crazy love in Miike's filmography), who, whether they like it or not, have human feelings. This is perhaps the most transgressive motif within Ichi the Killer: daring to show genuine human emotion from true real-life monsters. This motif brings the viewer in closer to the characters, while all the while, the viewer believes that he/she can sit comfortably outside of the drama but cannot. As much as Miike litters Ichi with sex and violence, he about equally litters his film with emotion. Like the scenes of sex and violence, the emotion is inescapable. Ichi the Killer is classic Miike: unexpected, irreverent, and playful: cinema's true court jester strikes again.
Any and all facts and the quotes from Takashi Miike are taken from his Ichi the Killer production diary included in Tom Mes's Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike. I implore everyone to purchase this book for Mes's amazingly astute take on Miike's work and above all, Miike's Ichi production diary. Reading it reveals a lot of anecdotes about the production, but most of all, its telling reveals most about Miike the man, a truly fascinating character, himself.

5 comments:

Mr.LargePackage said...

Hans, I love your reviews. It is a shame we had to wait so long for this quick burst. What have you been doing all week? I hope you weren't fighting your way out of an insane asylum, because that would be large and in charge.

Heavenztrash said...

This was a great review, Hans. I haven't watched Ichi in a while, makes me want to revisit! I love that you just kinda pass over the violence to focus on the more important aspects of the film.

Hans A. said...

I've escaped from the asylum to tell you gents thnx! I really appreciate your reading and commenting and nice words as always. I love Ichi and I hope other folks do too!

Matt-suzaka said...

I am a big fan of Ichi and think that it gets a bad rap from people unjustly due to the graphic nature of the film.

One scene that always stuck with me on a visual stand point is, when I think it's Shinya Tsukamoto who plays the old guy with the members only jacket - takes off all of his gear, only to reveal a dude that is straight jacked! Something about the way it unfolds and the look of what would be a nimble old man turning into a bodybuilder always impressed me with how it looked in comparison to only a moment beforehand.

Great review Hans!

Hans A. said...

Thnx Matt! There are sooo many great set-pieces in Ichi that I could probably write thousands of words on it. Tsukamoto's "transformation" is another great scene and WTF moment in the film. I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. Thnx again!