Review: Izo

Have you ever seen a movie that you think has some deeper meaning but you just don’t get it? And then after some consideration you wonder if you did infact miss something or whether the movie was just fucking with your head the entire time — trying to be all pretentious and meaningful but really just trying to be self-consciously showy?

I’m still not sure what Izo is. But I liked it, nonetheless.

I’m not sure how I can summarize it. Izo is some sort of guy who kills a lot of people. Toward the end of the movie he begins to turn into a demon. After the movie I heard a lot of people complaining that the movie didn’t have a plot. They were probably right. Mostly Izo kills people. At first, the people he kills are ghosts/reincarnations of people he killed in the past. Then he just starts killing everyone.

The movie is, for lack of a better term, very postmodern. Movie is very aware that it is a movie. For example, there is some random guy who appears throughout the film and plays guitar and sings (in a very insane/punk voice) some bizzare song. Nobody seems to notice to care about him. Additionally, Izo is frequently in one place then suddenly appears in another. Plus, the amount of blood and violence is so over the top, that it almost feels like a parody.

My working theory throughout the movie was that the character Izo was a physical representation of the idea of abjection. He is a formless form, a souless soul, he is living but his life is death, etc. Plus there is some line about how Izo is basically disruptor of the system and a contradition.

Furthermore, all of the blood and vommiting allude back to abjection — both of which are common ways of relaying the theory.

There is also some group of men who seem to somehow be behind Izo’s existence. I think they are related to war?

In my Postmodernism and Japanese Mass Culture class the professor suggested that pretty much every aspect of Japanese culture post-WWII is somehow influenced by the fact that they were defeated and the fact that the nuclear bomb was dropped on them (twice). Assuming that is true, Izo is a perfect example. In addition to strange conspiracy of men, there are also numerous cut-ins containing footage of the war and occupation and soldiers and Hitler.

Thus, I think Izo, in addition to being a manifestation of the theory of abjection, is also a manifestation for the guilt/pain/hypocrisy of war.

The film is filled with pretty profound one-liners, and I constantly wish I had a notebook with me so I could jot things down. Overall, I gave the movie 4/5 and will definitely be seeing it again (on DVD, though).

3 thoughts on “Review: Izo”

  1. I don’t really see applying Kristeva here–I agree more with your last statement of Izo being a “manifestation for the guilt/pain/hypocrisy of war”–it’s fairly obvious that Izo, reincarnated endlessly to commit atrocities, is a representation of the human capacity for violence and the neverending cycle thereof. The newsreels interspersed in the narative support this reading, I believe. The troubador or whatever…I don’t know what his real name is, but I heard that he’s pretty famous in Japan…some kind of counter-culture figure from the 60’s. While the lyrics were definitely bizarre, I found that they commented (metaphorically, of course) on what was going on in the film, which was actually pretty cool.

    Have you seen Hitokiri? It’s a late 60’s (?) Hideo Gosha flim about Izo Okada. Izo kind of feels like a fucked up sequel to Hitokiri, but I don’t know enough about Japanese culture to back that up–I do know that Izo is a well-known swordsman, so it could just be that Miike was working off an historical figure and not an earlier picture.

  2. Ahh yes, thank you. I was actually wondering about the cultural signifigance of the Izo character — I figured there may be something I was missing. Ditto for the troubador. And yea, although the lyrics were bizzare, you are right — they are very meaningful.

    As for Kristeva — I want to apply her to everything, even when it’s not necessary. Maybe after seeing it again I can better justify my desire to use her.

  3. If you can find Hitokiri (it also goes under the alt title “Tenchu”), I reccommend it. I tried looking Gosha up on netflix, but I don’t see a listing for him at all. I have a couple of his films, The Wolves and Hitokiri on VHS…but I taped them off NGN when I was like 13 or something. He’s got a cult following for his samurai and yakuza movies. His older gangster-y stuff was in the ninkyo eiga tradition–genre pieces, but in a good way.

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