Today I watched Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer (2001)
Ichi the Killer is perhaps the most absurdly violent films of all time, not violent in terms of most buckets of blood or highest body count, though it does rate highly in both categories, but in the offensive nature of the displayed acts. The story here revolves around the murder of a yakuza boss and the investigation launched by his second in command, the sadomasochistic Kakihara played by Tadanobu Asano. At first he does not believe the boss is dead, but as more clues are brought to his attention, his quest becomes one of vengeance. The boss’s killer is known as Ichi, a mentally handicapped, sexually frustrated serial killer who has been coerced into helping a mysterious group to perform hits for them. What follows is a fast paced barrage of murder, rape, and mutilation, oh and it is a comedy.
This is the blackest of black comedy that pushes beyond the bounds of extreme content for the subject matter of it’s strange gags. Miike takes controversial and offensive material and then pushes it to absurd extremes with a style I can only characterize as anarchic. The torture and violence of this film raised the bar and paved the way for the likes of Saw and Martyrs, but this film still feels unique in it’s approach to such subject matter because of how knowingly ridiculous it is. This film is on the other side of unconscionable violence and extreme content and thus exposes violent media as a cartoonish joke.
The chaotic and outwardly abrasive presentation of this film is a constantly off putting element but it raises an interesting thought. Perhaps the sadomasochistic subject matter is a reflection of the film’s intent, the film is trying to hurt the audience to induce pleasure. It explores the limits of extreme and difficult subject matter in an attempt to find the point where the pain becomes pleasure and I think it succeeds marvelously. Like a good rollercoaster, Ichi the Killer finds a level of discomfort that has stimulated many audiences and inspired many imitators, if few equals.
Transgression for it’s own sake is not something to be simply dismissed or simplified, I personally view it as a very helpful mental exercise for viewing today’s chaotic world. The absurdity of extremity is what this film caters to you and that is most certainly going to be an acquired taste but this is as good an entry point as any, better than most actually. If you are like me and want to see films that push boundaries and offer extremity of a level most don’t have the guts to attempt, then this is a true classic. From the insane soundtrack performed by members of Japanese experimental group Boredoms, to the near schizophrenic visual style, this film is pure aggression and expressive freedom personified in the most ultra of ultraviolence, and I love it. 5/5