Movie Review: Ichi the Killer

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Director: Takashi Miike

(this article originally appeared in Rue Morgue #33, May/June 2003)

While not strictly a horror movie, gore hounds will die for Ichi the Killer. Entrails abound, faces not attached to heads slide down bloody walls, and skin is eaten off fingers. Ichi, adapted from the Japanese comic of the same name, is a twisted yakuza action film, shot through with heavy undercurrents of sexual dysfunction and pathos.

The story follows one yakuza gang and its attempts to find its boss after he disappears along with the gang’s money. Leading the search is the demented and deformed Kakihara, one of the more visually distinct characters in recent film history, thanks to the scars covering his face and the two slits in his cheeks through which he exhales cigarette smoke.

Kakihara goes on a wild search for his boss that includes Hellraiser-style hook torture and the cutting-out of his own tongue. All the while, the gangs are being manipulated from behind the scenes by a disgraced member of the gang who is now working on his own.

This man, the mastermind behind the boss’ disappearance, also controls Ichi. Despite leaving behind him ceilings dripping with blood and bodies sliced in half from head to crotch, Ichi is an average guy (if that; he comes off as mildly retarded) who rides his bike everywhere he goes, except when he goes crazy and kills everything in sight using a razor built into his bike shoes.

Of course, the film eventually builds to a confrontation between Ichi and Kakihara, but it’s the journey, more than the destination, that’s most interesting here.

This probably isn’t the film to see if you’re searching for deeper meaning (though some frequent Miike themes crop up: the disgraced father now in a new job, the bullied son, decapitations, foot amputation), but if over-the-top action, dripping viscera, and stylish masochists all add up to your idea of a fun movie, Ichi is your guy.

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