(Originally posted on 1/15/04)
Japan's Takashi Miike has become a filmmaking phenomenon for his ultra-violent Dead or Alive trilogy, the nightmarish Audition, and for this film, a sizzling, orgiastic celebration of bloodshed and depravity. Ichi the Killer follows platinum blond mobster Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), a ruthless masochist searching for his missing crime boss, as he embarks on a collision course with a sexually confused sadist named Ichi (Nao Omori). Ichi, used as a pawn by a former cop named Jijii (Sinya Tsukamoto) who's bent on pitting Kakihara against his rivals, plays videogames by day and murders the bullies of the world while dressed in a superhero costume by night. Miike has little use for narrative lucidity, obscuring the plot's incoherent silliness by focusing on the endless images of rape, torture, and mutilation that characterize his sleek, frantic mise-en-scène. The film's brazen impropriety seems like a response to cherished Japanese notions of modesty and decorum, and Ichi's unbridled hysteria and fury -- the product of anger and misery caused by repressed childhood traumas -- may be the director's critique of a society that encourages people to hide their feelings behind impenetrable public facades of deferential politeness. Searching for social commentary amidst this chaotic carnage, however, is probably giving the film more credit than it deserves. Miike's gleeful staging of a dead skin mask sliding down a wall or Kakihara slicing off his own tongue reflect the filmmaker's desire to create iconic images of gonzo gangster madness, and in the figure of Kakihara, he almost succeeds. With slits running from the corners of his mouth out into the middle of his cheeks (the wounds held together only by two ring piercings) and a sexual appetite for S&M-tinged beatings, Asano's Kakihara is a demonic monster whose moral vacuity is simultaneously frightening and comical. He's not enough to elevate the pointless Ichi the Killer into something worthwhile, but his extreme indecency does make the endless degeneracy slightly more bearable.