Few directors have produced a body of work as bizarre as that of Takashi Miike, and few of Miike's films are as strange as Ichi the Killer.
Each of these acts of wildly overdone, absolutely impossible savagery included in Ichi the Killer is disturbing by itself, but each is made even worse by its following and being followed by further atrocities. In fact, the movie is so filled with such horrors that it can be almost unbearable to watch. There are graphic scenes of a pimp beating a prostitute, of Ichi cutting off a woman's leg and then killing her, of a man being tortured with burning oil while hung from a ceiling with enormous hooks piercing his skin, of Kakihara cutting off his own tongue, of a woman's nipples being sliced off with a razor blade, and so on. Ichi the Killer is amazingly violent.
What is more, the strange, horrific world of the film is made even more repellently fascinating by the consistently impressive performances of the actors. Tadanobu Asano's portrayal of Kakihara is particularly wonderful. By infusing the psychopathic character with a stylish, masochistic savagery and weird charm, which both enthrall and revolt the viewer, he has managed to create one of cinema's great villains. While none of the other actors is as memorable as is Asano, most are competent and several are remarkably entertaining. Some bring a humanity to their characters which allows the viewer to engage and sympathize with them. Others create strange individuals whose peculiarities contribute to the disjunction of the world presented in the film from that of ordinary reality. All effectively enhance the movie's emotive impact.
Ichi the Killer enables the viewer to experience a potent sense of ferocity. Miike does not, however, revel in this wrath but mingles it with feelings of horror and revulsion. The viewer's appreciation of the film is thus colored by the complex interweaving of these emotions. Furthermore, the exaggerated elements of the movie prevent excessive realism from creeping in and misdirecting such reactions towards specific objects. Consequently, wrathfulness, horror, and repugnance as such are elicited by the events of the film. Although its characters are the loci of these emotions, such feelings are not actually directed towards them or any other person. Instead, the moviegoer is immersed in the director's vision as it exists in itself and made to experience undiluted the emotions it arouses without being concerned about anything extrinsic to the movie. The result is a powerfully evocative work of art.
Review by Keith Allen
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