Three hundred million yen and Yakuza boss Anjo have disappeared without a trace. Anjo’s most deadly and most sadomasochistic enforcer, Kakihara, and the rest of the Yakuza gang embark on a torture-riddle search and rescue to find their missing boss. After unrightfully torturing and mutilating a rival Yakuza leader, Kakihara learns through a trail of mayhem of a fierce killer known as Ichi and after being exposed to Ichi’s grisly handiwork first hand, a usually stagnant and emotionally detached Kakihara becomes stimulated and eager to go one-on-one with a formidable foe like Ichi, who could possibly bestow upon him gratifying pain to feel something other than emptiness. Ichi’s eviscerating destruction isn’t totally in his control as the sexually-repressed and candidly disturbed overall nice guy is being coerce through psycho-manipulation by Jijii, an old man seeking retribution against the Anjo gang. With blades projecting from his shoes and his skill at martial arts, the timid Ichi becomes the ultimate killing machine when brainwashing takes him over the edge into a hysterical fit of rage that leaves guts and blood to paint the floor and walls.
Perhaps director Takashi Miike’s finest work, the 2001 Japanese blood bath “Ichi the Killer” is a must own for any film aficionado teetering on the razor wire between crime dramas and gory action flicks that might be on the viewing docket for then night, but certainly a must-see for all film lovers at some point in time. Miike’s stone cold, chaotic style of filmmaking embraces the story’s unwavering havoc that blisters with ruthless brutality between two very different, black and white characters with one thing in common – being good a killing. Based off the manga penned by Hideo Yamamoto and from the adapted screenplay by Sakichi Sato, Miike crafts the most disturbing elements of mankind and brings them to the forefront in a simple story of revenge. On one side, there’s Kakihara, a scarred-face Yakuza enforcer with a very rich violent history to the extent that he’s become numb to his own existence in the world and then there’s Ichi, a reclusive cry-baby stemmed from being mentally fed graphic bulling stories of battery and rape in a memory built upon languishing lies. Vastly different, well-written characters opposite the spectrum and both are good at dealing death, but one aims to dish it out and the other yearns to stop his carnage, and that compelling core element is immensely fluffed by extreme violence in a way that only Miike can deliver it.
But for a film like “Ichi the Killer,” Takashi Miike had a little (hint of sarcasm) help from his gifted cast in making this project a cult success. Before this actor was Hogun in the Marvel Universe’s “Thor” franchise, Tadanobu Asano shaped up the psychotic enforcer Kakihara and the usually dark featured Asano reconfigures his appearance to put life into the character who sports blonde, wavy hair, a frothy complexion, and small hoop piercings at the corners of his lips to keep the slits from opening to expose the entire gaping jaw which is used as a defensive weapon. Opposite Asano is the Tokyo born Nao Ohmori who perfectly subjects himself to being a wimpy human shell with an explosive inner anger. The two men have only a small amount of screen time together and that requires them to build their character’s standout personalities. Complimenting their performances is an amazing support cast, including Shin’ya Tsukamoto (“Marebito”), Miss Singapore 1994 Paulyn Sun, Hiroyuki Tanaka, and Suzuki Matsuo.
“Ichi the Killer” is simply magnificent where it vulgarly touches upon various themes, mostly human flawed that also destines opposing counterparts together. Aside from the graphically realistic violence, Miike’s film hits upon other attributable tangents, among them some are just being plain gross, but these aspects are undeniably important to the story. Themes ranging from sexual suppression and female inferiority to sadomasochism and severe obsession top the charts in a heap of motifs throughout. Accessorial blood and other bodily fluids are extravagantly portrayed, spraying across the room with jettison entrails or dripping from potted plants to a cloudy puddle below during in a voyeuristic rape scene, to get the clear sense of an adult manga inspired chockablock exploitation and crime drama.
Well Go USA presents “Ichi the Killer” on Blu-ray in a newly restored 4K digital transfer of the director’s cut; a task undertaken by Emperor Motion Pictures in 2017. Presented in a widescreen 16:9 (1.85:1) aspect ratio, the film starts off with a blurb about the history of this particular digital restoration and transfer that asserts director Takashi Miike’s approval for release. Well Go USA’s rendering resembles much of the previous Tokyo Shock Blu-ray with subtle differences such as a slightly more aqua tint to the picture coloring and also much like it’s other Region A Blu-ray counterpart, a bit of noise is present in the restoration, but still the better detail of the two. The Japanese stereo 5.1 DTE-HD Master Audio surround sound has an bombastic soundtrack, but dialogue remains on the softer side where relying on the English subtitles is crucial. No issues with timing or accuracy in the subtitles. Surprisingly, the only extras included on the Well Go USA release is an audio commentary with director Takashi Miike and manga artist Hideo Yamamoto, still gallery, and the trailer that undercuts this releases’ purchasing value and might as well hunt down for the out of print Media Blasters Blu-ray, if extras are a must. Even still, “Ichi the Killer” has been resurrected in North America again and the release technically sustains growth amongst the mass of releases around the world. The lack of special features is disconcerting, especially being a restored director’s cut, but “Ichi the Killer” can stand on it’s own as a gracefully sanguinary masterpiece. Look for the Blu-ray to hit retail and online shelves March 20th!