Tadanobu Asano stars as Kakihara, who works for a Yakuza boss who has gone missing. A rumour is heard that the boss has been kidnapped by a rival gang. Kakihara, a violent and twisted sadomasochist tortures a rival gang member, which gets Kakihara kicked out of the gang. And that’s when he hears that his boss has been murdered by a mysterious killer known as Ichi (Nao Omori). Ichi is an odd character, docile and shy for the most part, and yet capable of great displays of gruesome violence. This is the handiwork of Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto), a cruel manipulator who hates Kakihara’s gang, has turned Ichi into a killing machine by brainwashing him into thinking that everyone he kills was responsible for bullying him as a child. He also seems to get some kind of sexual charge out of killing, just so you know. Kakihara becomes obsessed with Ichi, perhaps sensing an ultra-violent kindred spirit, or perhaps because he’s a sadomasochistic perve. Yeah, let’s go with both of those.
Even if you’ve seen other films from director Takashi Miike (who also has a role in the film) like his extraordinary “Audition”, this 2001 Yakuza film will still shock the hell out of you. Unfortunately for me, some of Miike’s shock tactics here work against what is otherwise a pretty strong and interesting gangster film. The gore I’m cool with, after all I thoroughly enjoyed the uber-violent HK flick “The Story of Ricky”. The scene where someone’s cheeks are stretched to the extreme is an amusingly sick example. Even the torture didn’t bother me, because it’s all so whacked out and extreme that one can’t be offended so much as stunned, though I’m no fan of the ‘torture porn’ flicks. It’s almost surreal, and I think even the proudest of piercing enthusiasts will find themselves wincing throughout this. However, I simply couldn’t put up with the extreme violence- both physical and sexual- committed against women in this film. Gore is silly, but women being beaten and raped? Only sickos find amusement in that. It’s foul, nasty, and a stain on an otherwise fine and memorable film with a solid story and interesting (if unpleasant) characters. Perhaps your heart is blacker than mine and can appreciate this film more (It’s certainly one of his most popular and notorious films), but I was slightly held back a bit because of this one unsavoury and in my view detrimental element. Miike has simply gone a bit too far, even for him.
I also found the hand-held cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto (“Audition”, “The Grudge”, “The Great Yokai War”) to be ugly and murky in the extreme, especially early on. That offended me much more than the self-inflicted tongue slicing, to be honest. I also think the finale is all a bit too silly, and a letdown (Though actor Shinya Tsukamoto sure is one helluva condom full of walnuts).
If you think you can stomach the film, by all means give it a go, but be warned that in the opening ten minutes alone we are witness to a woman being beaten and raped, and we see a room splattered with blood and intestines. The film gets even messier after that. Yep. ‘Fucked up’ is the only way to describe this one.
Tadanobu Asano and Nao Omori are both excellent as the insanely masochistic Kakihara and the complex title character, respectively. I do think the film would’ve been better if the title character were introduced a lot earlier, but even then the unsavoury violence against women would make it hard for me to give this a genuine recommendation. I’m no prude, I mean, I loved the bit where a guy punches Kakihara in the mouth and his fist gets stuck. So, clearly I like my violent cinema. But…no, I can’t in good conscience support this film. Such a shame, there’s really something here, but Miike is as Miike does, and goes too far. He’s a genuine, but sometimes unrestrained talent.
No, I’ll just watch “Audition” again, thanks, painful as that film sometimes is. Or maybe Miike’s bizarre, yet somewhat benign “Great Yokai War”. Based on a manga by Hideo Yamamoto (apparently not the same Yamamoto who shot the film), the screenplay is by Sakichi Sato.