After an absurdly tasteless pre-titles scene involving a beaten prostitute and an unlikely amount of semen dripping from a plant, we see a group of men dressed in protective clothing and masks, preparing to go into a hotel and clean up a room full of human carnage.
Shortly afterwards, Yakuza henchman Kakihara arrives at the scene, and discovers it to be the last known sighting of his boss, Anjo. With all tell-tale signs of bloodshed having been mopped up already, suspicion is rife amongst Kakihara's colleagues that their boss has ran off with a stash of their money. Kakihara doesn't believe this, however, and assumes his boss has been either killed or kidnapped.
And so Kakihara sets about quizzing, bullying and torturing fellow mobsters in a bid to find out what happened to his boss. The head of another gang, Jijii, implicates a rival mobster called Suzuki who is swiftly brought to Kakihara for a most severe variant of Q&A. Meathooks and boiling fat feature heavily in this outrageously OTT scene!
Suzuki protests his innocence, and pretty soon Kakihara faces the wrath of an entire syndicate of Yakuza gangs for his unorthodox methods. Expelled from the syndicate, Kakihara takes Anjo's loyal band of men and enlists the help of Anjo's moll Karen (the lovely Alien Sun) - determined to find their boss' killer.
One rumour that's whispered Kakihara's way is that a hitman for a rival gang has wiped out his boss, and will soon take action to eliminate the remainder of the Anjo gang. The hitman's name is Ichi.
Ichi is a timid waiter by day. He walks with his eyes to the floor, and plays quietly on the Playstation for hours on end. By night, he's called upon to massacre villains in his black superhero-style outfit. On his nights off, Ichi's prone to visiting abused prostitutes and fantasising about beating or raping them. And he's the good guy!
The remainder of the film basically comprises of Kakihara's search for Ichi (which involves lots of torturing tit-bits of information out of people), and the character development of Kakihara's right-hand-man Kaneko, a former cop whose son Takeshi is being bullied - much like Ichi was when he was younger.
ICHI THE KILLER is a well-shot and stylish movie, filled with interesting film techniques and razor-sharp editing that ensure neither the visuals or pace ever bore. Being a Miike film - and being based on the comics by Hideo Yamamoto - you could hardly expect anything less.
Undeniably well-made in all technical aspects, it's the violence that sets ICHI apart from other films of it's ilk - and ultimately the violence that will overshadow any other praise this movie should rightfully be attracting.
The torture set-pieces are superbly acted and filmed (very well-lit too), with great FX for the most part. The only time the effects falter is with the (very infrequent) use of CGI. The less said about that, the better! For the most part though, the FX are very reliable, combined with decent acting and an unflinching approach from Miike. Consequently there are scenes of almost sadistic overkill. But while extremely gory, ICHI's violence is at times comic-strip style in it's excessive delivery and therefore never overtly offensive or nasty.
That is, aside from the genuinely disturbing scenes of sexual violence that have been filmed with considerable relish!
The beatings that a prostitute receives from her pimp are hideous - though arguably even more objectionable is her attitude to Ichi when he stops these beatings, and Ichi's belief that it is now his place to continue to beat the girl. Likewise, Karen's attempt to seduce Ichi by telling him how she likes to be raped and beaten (witness the boner in Ichi's pants!) is the type of talk that may upset a few viewers!
Overall though, it's a fantastic fast-paced two hours of gratuitous violence, stylish camerawork and moments of pitch-black humour.
This 2 disc version from Worldwide Cinema is nicely packaged - a cardboard slipcase houses a clear plastic keepcase that itself holds the two discs.
Disc 1 features the full uncut version of the film in anamorphic widescreen. It looks superb - sharp, clear and clean. Minimal grain appears infrequently, but you're not likely to notice it - it's so minor as to be almost non-existent. The uncut scenes (as opposed to the Region 3 disc from a while back) include extended versions of most of the film's gorier moments - the tongue-slicing, nipple-removal, Suzuki's torture, throat slashings etc. Great stuff!
Audio on the main feature is available in Japanese 5.1, and English dubbed 4.0. Both err slightly on the quiet side, but do their jobs with no hiss, pops or drop-out. The English dubbed soundtrack, incidentally, is horrendous. It sounds like a bunch of Dutch people have been asked to read the subtitles aloud in English, in phony Asian accents ... Nice of them to try though. Subtitles are removable in English, French or Dutch. Although they're white, they're easy to read as they have a black outline.
The film has 32 chapters, and although the scene selection menu offers static chapter menu pictures, the main menu is animated and looks fantastic.
I suppose it's impossible not to mention the two audio commentary tracks that were reportedly prepared for this release - one by Mark Kermode; the second by Bey Logan and Alien Sun. They're not here - neither are they advertised anywhere on the disc or it's packaging.
Disc 2 kicks off with a wonderful animated menu page highlighting some of the film's more alarming moments. Beyond that, it offers a nice selection of extra features that should satisfy most.
For starters there's an excellent interview with Miike that runs for 32 minutes. He explains budgetary limitations, the intentional use of crappy CGI, the bravery of his actresses - and offers his own insights into the Manga influence on modern Japanese cinema.
There's also a 10 minute interview with Tadanobu Asano (Kakihara) - stating that he finds a few scenes in the film tough to sit through (ironic when you consider he's the character that inflicts most of the on-screen brutality!).
Alien Sun and Skimya Tsukamoto also get interviewed (15 minutes and 14 minutes respectively). Of the four interviews, Sun's is conducted in English while the other three are in Japanese with non-removable English subtitles. There's no interview with No Omori (Ichi), but as he's the least interesting character in the entire film, this is perhaps forgivable.
A promotional gallery offers 2 original trailers. The European trailer, in particular, is excellent. There's an extra called 'Electronic Press Kit' which is 15 minutes long, and is essentially an abridged version of the Miike interview followed by some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. Unfortunately this extra does not have subtitles.
Speaking of behind-the-scenes footage, there are 7 BTS featurettes that while devoid of subtitles (there's barely any dialogue here anyway) offer some interesting glances at how some of the more infamous effects were achieved. A split-screen allows us to compare the making-of footage, with the actual filmed versions.
You also get biographies and filmographies on offer for Miike, Tsukamoto and Asano, along with 8 pages worth of film notes that are reasonably interesting and informative. All of these are presented in English text.
Last but not least is a stills gallery offering 50 images, ranging from on-set photos to theatrical poster artwork, and more.
It is a shame that the commentary tracks never transpired. But even without them, there's still a lot to recommend this release. For a start, the audio/video quality is superb. The extras that are here are well above what we could've previously expected, and the majority of them appear to have been geared primarily towards an English audience. And of course the main feature is FULLY UNCUT!
An excellent release for an outstanding film.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Dutch Film Works/Worldwide Cinema|
|Not Rated - Region 2 (PAL)|
|Loads! (see main review)|