With Netflix’s Squid Game officially becoming the most-watched show on the streaming stream, it appears that American audiences are more open to foreign content. Enter Ichi The Killer, one of the most bizarre, violent, and entertaining films you’ll ever see. Based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name, director Takashi Miike – who has over 100 films to his name including Audition and First Love -has made a cult classic that’s in the vein of Battle Royale, meaning that some people will love it, and others will absolutely hate it. Our first introduction to Ichi is him on a balcony masturbating to a pimp raping a prostitute. That sequence alone tells you what type of movie that you’re dealing with. The film doesn’t hold back on its violence and exploration of a toxic world, with Ichi The Killer actually being banned in several countries including Malaysia and Germany.
Despite the shock and awe of the surprising amount of violence and gore, Ichi The Killer, is a strange story about the mental damage one can have growing up in such a dark place, and an odd love story involving two sadomasochistics. The film dives deeper into the Yakuza gang world, with our titular anti-hero being Kakihara. The violent leader navigates through Korea on a murderous hunt to find the man responsible for his boss’s death. In reality, Kakihara is a terrible human being. He has no problem ripping the skin off of people for a good laugh and he values the love shown in his violence. Usually, characters like these are major villains, whereas Kakihara is the hero we’re supposed to be rooting for in a way. Kakihara isn’t a Tony Soprano or Walter White type character, meaning he doesn’t have a soft side that makes you root for him. He’s a violent bastard that has no qualms about the crimes that he commits.
What makes him such a fantastic character is the examination of his twisted mindset and world. The title character, Ichi, isn’t all too better of a human being. He’s definitely the opposite of Kakihara; A damaged soul who has been oppressed by the toxic world that he grew up in. However, Ichi revels in the bad behavior, slaughtering Yakura thugs left and right and raping women for his sick pleasure. You may think, this is all a bad viewing experience because we’re essentially following bad people. In truth, Ichi The Killer can be a tough watch. Not just for the brutal violence, but it’s fascinating how depraved these two men are. The Yakuza world is examined under a bloody scope and the film has no problems showcasing women being raped and slaughtered for the hell out of it. There’s no sensitive approach to the story. Sure, Ichi is a sympathetic character; however, his violent impulses strip away any reason to root for this monster. You could argue that this is a movie that’s violent for the sake of being violent. However, once the end credits roll, there’s no denying the impact the film has. It’s taken a satirical approach to its grim subject matter and bashing you in the head with a hammer. You do understand the characters and their actions. The film isn’t just a nearly two-hour experience of blood, death, and rape. It’s self-aware on how ridiculous and over-the-top it is; however, don’t expect anyone to look at the camera and wink at you.
Tadanobu Asano brings life to Kakihara. The character is definitely an intriguing force to follow, though Asano brings his colorful personality to life. Despite this movie being gonzo crazy, Asano’s unapologetic performance remains grounded in realism. This helps balance out the character’s personality and adds necessary depth to a vile human being. Nao Omori manages to do an incredible job balancing the character of Ichi. He’s a wimp and a coward; however, when he’s pushed to the breaking point then he’s an unstoppable human weapon. Like Asano, Omori is able to not go too far over the top with his performance, yet still comes across as natural even when the film takes a sharp left turn. Ichi The Killer is by no means a masterpiece like Parasite or Pulp Fiction. It’s a unique film that tests how strong your stomach is. If you can handle the weird narrative and the senseless violence towards women, you get a compelling character story about f***ed up people in a toxic world.