Provocative, gratuitous, perverse. These are three words that only start to scratch the surface of Takashi Miike’s masterwork. For those of you who haven’t seen the film yet, these words will have either put you off or turned you on. Regardless of that though, they will leave you feeling curious, whether you like it or not. You’ll be wondering ‘just how far does this movie go?’, and that thought won’t go away until it has been answered. That is where this film succeeds the most. Ichi the Killer highlights one of humanity’s worst tendencies: the need for violence.
The focus is on two equally disturbed humans: the flamboyant and impeccably dressed Yakuza gang member Kakihara, who has an acquired taste for sadomasochism, and the innocent-looking Ichi, a depraved and psychotic mass-killer. The two of them leave a trail of incapacitated bodies behind, constantly one-upping each other in terms of immorality. When Kakihara learns of Ichi, he vows to find him, hoping to finally meet someone who matches his perversion.
It would be easy to write this film off as mindless torture porn that aims for nothing other than to shock. It is self-aware in its indulgences though, never taking itself seriously. The cgi seemed deliberately poor at times to emphasise this. I could feel Miike smugly looking on as Asano started to win me over by making Kakihara charismatic and dare I say, even likeable? The film leaves you no choice but to latch on to him as a guide through the outrageous and brutal world.
The story itself is lacking, struggling to manage the multiple interweaving plot lines. This almost works in the movie’s favour though; you’ll stick around out of curiosity to see what violent act happens next, rather than for the narrative. That is, after all, the core of the film. It uses its shock factor to keep you watching, tantalising you with its gore. Maybe we’re not so different from the killers on the screen after all. Taking pleasure from violent acts is a guilty secret that Miike knows how to unleash.
So, as much as I hate to admit it, I enjoyed this movie. I may have watched a lot of it through my fingers but I never stopped watching. I have to applaud Miike for that.