Now that I’ve seen Ichi the Killer, I can say that it is my favorite Takashi Miike film. Like my other Miike film reviews (Dead or Alive and Izo, I won’t say too much — mostly because there are so many things happening in the movies that it’s hard to keep track.
For the most part, Ichi is a revenge movie. But more in the vein of Oldboy in that it complicates the “simple” revenge movies we’re used to (plus, like Oldboy there is an element of brainwashing involved). Ichi is conditioned by this guy Jijii to kill people in a pretty gruesome way. In the beginning of the movie he kills the crime boss Anjo, which brings Kakihara into the movie. Although the title of the movie is Ichi the Killer, Kakihara is really the main character.
Kakihara is into torture — seriously into torture. I mean torture like hanging people from hooks and pouring hot cooking oil on them, sticking needles into people’s faces, gnawing the skin off of people’s hands, etc. His methods are so extreme, in fact, that he’s kicked out of the yakuza, which means he has more time to track down his former boss’ killer.
Most of the movie is about Kakihara trying to find out who Ichi is and where to find him. Jijii makes sure that Kakihara is fed lots of false information, so between the two of them, Ichi and Kakihara kill/torture-then-kill a good number of the yakuza gang members (which, I imagine, is Jijii’s ultimate goal — it seems as a kid he witnessed a rape and was unable to save the girl so ever since then he’s had a thing against bullies… also, he plants this memory of the rape into Ichi’s head, so ultimately the rape is also Ichi’s reason for killing bullies — that is, Jijii lives vicariously through Ichi).
There is also the slightly tangential story of one of Kakihara’s thugs, Kaneko, and his son Takeshi. Takeshi is often the victim of bullying, and in the end he sorta becomes the next Ichi. So all around Kaneko’s character there are a bunch of parallels — not just between Takeshi and Ichi, but also between Kaneko and Ichi, Kaneko and a yakuza gang leader, and so on. I actually though that Kaneko’s character was the most interesting and probably the key to the movie.
In the end, there is a climactic-anti-climactic face-off between the two that isn’t as violent as one would expect.
My favorite aspect of the movie was the not-so-subtle sado/masochism theme. Both Ichi and Kakihara were sadists, but in different ways.
Kakihara was a greedy sadist, which made him a bit of a masochist, too — the feelings he got from the S&M behavior were all centered in him. He loved Anjo because Anjo would torture him and make him feel something. Before confronting Ichi, he remarked that he had never felt so anxious but was worried that, ultimately, Ichi would let him down by not causing him enough pain.
Ichi, on the other hand, was a sadist who enjoyed causing pain because he believed that pain made the other person feel good. Right before Ichi kills Karen, she says, “No.” To Ichi, this meant, “You said you don’t want it because you do want it.” It’s the old S&M paradox — to really inflict pain on a masochist, do you withhold pain from them? Or give them what they want? Does “No” mean “no” or “yes”?
I think, like I feel every time I watch a Miike movie, that there is some pretty deep philosophical stuff going on. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to watch any of his films more than once, so I’ve never given myself a chance to wade through it. (The first time I watch, especially since it’s a foreign movie, it’s hard enough following the characters and plot.) Ichi the Killer is definitely worth another viewing.