Koroshiya Ichi/Ichi The Killer
gerow at ynu.ac.jp
Wed Jan 23 21:01:07 EST 2002
This is a difficult topic and certainly a difficult movie. It took my a
long time to write the review I include below, and as you can see, I am
somewhat divided in my opinion.
But a few short comments. First, I think it is wrong to say the violence
in this film is purely for the sake of violence. If you look at all of
Miike's work, this is very clear. While there is an irony that Miike,
who wants to avoid the title artist (at least in international film
festivals), very much fits the definition of auteur (especially in the
original French version which looked at American B-movie and genre
directors), his concerns, themes, motifs, etc. are very consistent
throughout his wide variety of films, and from this perspective all, I
would argue, reveal a strong concern for the tragedy of living in a
postmodern world of violence and the simulacrum. In fact, by making his
own images violent, Miike is challenging us to understand the nature of
the image in our world and how to approach it.
At the same time, Miike is sometimes too playful and sometimes too
willing to get carried away. In some examples, like Katakuri-ke no
shiawase, this results in a film falling apart at the seams. At the same
time, this is also part of his self-critique and his challenge to those
who want to inscribe him as an "artist" (my sense of "auteur" is
different). But in Ichi I wonder if it doesn't go so far that he loses
his ability to critique the potential pleasure of viewing violence--to
critique the Kakihara in the audience.
Just some thoughts.
Ichi': A painful look at violence in films Koroshiya Ichi (Ichi the
These days when the reality of violence hits home all too shockingly, one
hears occasional voices questioning cinema's continual celebration of
One doubts, however, that anything will ever come of this criticism. Too
many movies are dependent on violence as a tool to provide audiences with
catharsis and utopia. Killing sprees offer either virtual eliminations of
society's persistent "evils" or promise spectators identification with
muscular male heroes who slice through their enemies with the greatest of
ease. Violence thus guarantees solutions or, as Hollywood's importation
of Hong Kong wire action testifies, makes impossible feats possible. The
pleasure audiences receive is too great for capitalist movie moguls to
suppress such bloodshed.
Given this context, one wonders whether movie violence shouldn't be made
more painful. Painful to watch, that is. Takashi Miike might be an
interesting test case of this hypothesis. Following the gross Visitor Q,
his new Koroshiya Ichi is bloody to the point of being repulsive. In
fact, not a few reviewers have altogether rejected the film because of
its extreme violence. I would argue that most have missed the message
behind the mayhem, but I myself wonder if Miike's route is the one best
The violent characters here clearly do not offer viewers a pleasurable
object of identification. Ichi (Nao Omori), with his knife-edged shoes,
can certainly slaughter a multitude of opponents with a couple of kicks.
But after the bloodshed, he not only breaks down and cries like a baby,
he masturbates at the sight of the carnage. He is a wimp who, while
having built up his fighting skills, still carries the psychological and
sexual baggage of a childhood full of bullying and witnessed rapes.
The man who orders him to kill is little better. Known simply as "Jiji"
("gramps"; played by Tsukamoto Shinya), he shoots steroids to build up
his "perfect" body and rather cruelly manipulates Ichi into fighting a
war against the violent Anjo crime syndicate--why, we never quite know.
The main Anjo lieutenant, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), makes violence his
life's work. When Ichi kills Anjo and Jiji disposes of the body to make
it seem like the boss has fled town, Kakihara goes on a rampage, pouring
boiling oil on supposed comrades, sticking 30-centimeter-long needles in
suspects, and cutting off the nipples of women to make them talk.
Violence, however, is never a means to him, he is a sadomasochist whose
philosophy is that true love always involves pain.
His eagerness to confront (or be killed by?) Ichi borders on that of
Juliet awaiting Romeo. It is to Miike's credit, however, that Kakihara's
pleasure is never really fulfilled. In fact, by throwing in loads of
double-crosses and conflicting loyalties, Miike makes it clear that no
one really gets what they want in this story--perhaps including the
audience hoping for a cool showdown. Just as Ichi grows more averse to
the violence, the more he is mired in it, the bloody actions of these
characters become more and more futile the further along they get
continue their fight.
Especially when it becomes apparent that Gramps has been manipulating
people to the point of inventing their memories, it is clear these
individuals share the fundamental sadness of many of Miike's characters.
They pursue impossible dreams that inevitably fail in a world reduced to
blood and illusion.
And when children are placed in Koroshiya Ichi to witness it all, it is
easy to imagine this vicious circle of violence and revenge will continue
Koroshiya Ichi is thus ugly because its object (violence) and its message
are ugly. It is pure hypocrisy to reject this ugliness while then
praising some action film in which the violence is cleaner and more
But one fears that Miike takes violence too far. While he is following
rather faithfully the hit manga by Hideo Yamamoto, Koroshiya Ichi reminds
us that the sounds and moving sights of cinema pack more of a punch than
the comics do. The danger is that, in such extremes, Miike's violence
will be dismissed as "comic book-like," or worse yet, enjoyed by
those--perhaps all too many--spectators who are like Kakihara and simply
thrill at violence no matter how ugly it is.
If Koroshiya Ichi is a test case, perhaps it proves that making movie
violence painful is more painful than even Miike believes.
International Student Center
Yokohama National University
Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
E-mail: gerow at ynu.ac.jp
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