Ichi the Killer

Ichi the Killer (2001) (also Koroshiya Ichi or 殺し屋1) is a highly controversial film directed by Takashi Miike and adapted from a manga by Hideo Yamamoto.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

The film stars Asano Tadanobu as Kakihara, a sadomasochist yakuza enforcer who enjoys giving and reciving pain in about equal measure. (To reinforce this, he is shown as having his mouth widenend on both sides by several inches, with his cheeks held together with piercings.) Kakihara's boss Anjo vanishes one night after his bodyguards murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion, along with 100 million yen.

Many of Kakihara's compatriots, including his English and Chinese-speaking girlfriend Karen (Alien Sun), suspect that Anjo "took the money and 'did a runner'" (i.e., betrayed them), but Kakihara is convinced the man is alive. His investigation leads him to brutally torture a member of a rival clan, Suzuki (Terajima Susumu) by suspending him from a ceiling by putting metal hooks through the man's back, shoving knitting needles through his body, and throwing boiling grease (from a meal of tempura) on him. (In an example of the film's extremely black humor, when asked what he is doing, Kakihara responds nonchalantly, "Just a little torture, nothing special.")

To make restitution, Kakihara slices off part of his tongue and offers it to Suzuki's boss (Kunimura Jun). However, the man who tipped Kakihara off to Suzuki and may have more real information, a disheleved old man nicknamed Jijii (Tsukamoto Shinya), is nowhere to be found.

Jijii is, as it turns out, secretly orchestrating events. Under his wing is a young man, Ichi (Omori Nao), a confused and apparently psychotic individual who is normally unassuming and cowardly, but becomes homicidal when enraged (and who has crying fits after committing his murders). Ichi outfits himself in a rubber suit with shoes that have razors concealed in the heels, and after spying on a pimp brutalizing a prostitute kills first the pimp, then the girl. Jijii has so manipulated Ichi as to confuse sexual arousal with homicidal lust in him, and accomplished this by creating a false memory in him of witnessing a rape in high school -- which he felt ashamed for wanting to participate in rather than stop.

Kakihara is eventually thrown out of the syndicate for his transgressions, but not before catching word of Ichi. He becomes fascinated with this "total sadist," since perhaps through him he can finally find the ultimate pain he has been seeking -- one which neither his girlfriend nor his boss could give him. In a related plot development, Jijii attempts to get better control over Ichi by having Karen seduce him, but the plan backfires horribly and Karen is slaughtered.

Ichi and Kakihara eventually confront each other on a rooftop. The film then ostensibly departs from literal reality and gives us a showdown that appears to take place in the minds of one or the other of the main characters, but it remains deliberately obscure which.

[To come: themes, discussion, controversy]

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