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Ichi the Killer(2001)
Welcome to a world where violence is a virtue and depravity is a way of life. This is the underside of Shinjuku, and the Home of Kakihara, a sadistic Yakuza killer. He relentlessly tears apart the underworld searching for the man who killed his boss. The mastermind behind the plot is Jijii, an ex-cop bent on turning the gangsters of Japan against one another. His trump card is a physically powerful lunatic who is constantly on the verge of snapping. This madman is Ichi, the killer, and him and Kakihara, the streets will run red with blood...
For more about Ichi the Killer and the Ichi the Killer Blu-ray release, see the Ichi the Killer Blu-ray Review
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Ōmori, Shinya Tsukamoto, Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima
Director: Takashi Miike
» See full cast & crew
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray Review
Grab a vomit bag and settle in for a night of devilish entertainment.
Reviewed by Dustin Somner, September 23, 2010
Director Takashi Miike quickly made a name for himself on the subversive end of Japanese cinema, often walking a precarious line between pointless gore and intriguing extremism. For those who can stomach his brand of entertainment, this Blu-ray release of Ichi the Killer likely registered as a highly anticipated addition to your collection, delivering what I'd hoped would stand as the best possible presentation available. We'll get into the technical aspects of this release soon enough, but I thought I should dedicate an early segment of this review to a brief warning on the subject matter of the film, separating those who can stomach extreme violence and gore from others who should stick with material a bit more tame.
In a nutshell, Ichi the Killer is an unabashed experiment in sadist glee, sporting scenes of cringe-worthy torture, unexplained violence, stomach-churning rape, and buckets of severed body parts. If taken literally it's nearly impossible not to be disgusted by such subject matter, but that's the beauty of a cult hit such as Ichi the Killer. Without actually endorsing the depictions strewn throughout, there's a surprising level of entertainment value in the whole sordid mess, leaving Ichi the Killer atop the list of films I enjoy, but would never recommend to friends or family. As such, I'd suggest a film this offensive stay out of the hands of the majority of the population and restrict my endorsement to hardcore genre fans with an iron stomach.
When the leader of the Anjo yakuza gang winds up missing, many within his clan suspect him of leaving with 300 million yen and his girlfriend Karen. Knowing his boss wouldn't do such a thing, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) vows to track down those responsible for the kidnapping or death of his mentor, and restore honor to his clan. During his search for answers (incorporating any sadistic torture method he can conceive), the interim boss of the Anjo clan eventually falls out of favor with rival clans within the umbrella organization, but not before he discovers the name of a brutal killer with a connection to his leader's disappearance. Meanwhile, we're introduced to Ichi (Nao Omori), a young man with severe anxiety related to vivid memories of a childhood rape scene and a strong penchant for violence. Looked after by a man named Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto), Ichi allows himself to be used as a tool of destruction against the spreading influence of the yakuza clans, entering situations where he becomes so enraged by his own inadequacies that he lashes out in inhuman ways. Orchestrated by a puppetmaster with an ingenious plan to place Ichi on a crash course with Kakihara, a violent ballet of death and mayhem spreads through the Anjo clan, leaving a trail of intestines and limbs in its wake.
Though I'm not typically a fan of excessive gore, I consider Ichi the Killer a guilty pleasure on many levels. For instance, we have the relentless over-the-top violence that quickly becomes the defining factor in the overall success of the production. During my initial viewing several years ago, I was admittedly annoyed by the themes introduced in the first 20 minutes of the film, since Miike focuses all his energy on the introduction of shock value. Between the early rape scene and the subsequent torture of the rival yakuza soldier, we're led to believe this is nothing more than a Japanese version of Grindhouse theatre. Such a suspicion is certainly warranted given Miike's creative use of cinematography and outlandish audio effects, but I've found such labels a bit misleading after multiple viewings. During your initial viewing of Ichi the Killer, it can take awhile for the characters, plot, and in-your-face nature to become something worth relishing, but once that transition eventually takes place, I'd wager most viewers will emerge with at least mild fascination.
Moving beyond the gore and violence of Ichi the Killer it's worth mentioning the dedication Miike showed toward the source material (manga) in creating an unflinching portrayal of the popular illustrated series. If you find the time to watch the included documentary chronicling the history of the film's production, Miike describes his firm stance on honoring the work of Hideo Yamamoto by creating an end product that appeals to fans of the original concept. Though my exposure to the manga is limited, I've read enough panels to recognize the same themes found in Miike's adaptation, confirming the value he placed on a seamless transition from book to screen. That's not to say you should find Ichi the Killer more appealing simply because it remains faithful to the original concept, but in a world where Hollywood bastardizes comic books and graphic novels in an effort to broaden appeal, I find it refreshing to sit through something as repulsive and disgusting as Miike's vision. After all, Ichi the Killer will only appeal to a limited segment of the population as it is, so why not deliver on the demands of that particular market.
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in 1080p utilizing the AVC codec (at a measly bitrate of 13Mbps), Ichi the Killer looks downright atrocious in the transition to Blu-ray. I suppose I had my hopes up a bit too high in the first place, but how could we have foreseen the use of such shoddy source material in creating this "new" transfer. Beginning with the worst infractions, clarity barely surpasses the quality of a typical DVD release, colors appear ridiculously washed out (especially in outdoor sequences), and black levels rarely descend below a dark shade of gray. Adding to such profound weaknesses, there's a heavy blanket of noise creating constant movement in the background, and contrast struggles to separate gradual shade transitions. This reveals a blending of the darker elements in the transfer, often causing objects in the foreground to become lost in the background. We could honestly go on and on with the multiple complaints found on this release, but rather than bore you with additional details I'll simply let the screenshots speak for themselves.
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While I appreciate the inclusion of dual lossless tracks to satisfy the preference of native language purists and the "subtitle impaired", the end result is a bit underwhelming. Switching back and forth between the lossy 2.0 and lossless 5.1 selections, I failed to notice much improvement in spatial separation, clarity, or the presence of rumbling lows. In fact, it almost seemed as if the lossless offerings were merely reproductions of the lossy stereo mix, but with the added benefit of minor channel separation. Comparing the English and Japanese (lossless) offerings to one another, I'd give the edge to the native language track, which offers a more robust feel to non-dialog elements, and more efficient management of the volume balance between dialog, music, and sound effects. The English version is still passable if you hate subtitles (provided you're comfortable with the odd choice in accents), but I'd recommend the Japanese option to anyone with even a fraction of audiophile blood running through them.
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Audio Commentary with Director Takashi Miike and Manga Artist/Writer Hideo Yamamoto: This is the same commentary track found on the prior DVD release, presented with English subtitles.
Interviews (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0): Rather than going the easy way out on this release, Tokyo Shock went to the trouble of including an informative collection of interviews with the producer and main cast members. If you're primarily interested in character analysis from the actors that play each role, the obvious choice should be the latter 5 interviews. However, the best of the bunch in my opinion is with producer Dai Miyazaki, who digs deeper into the inception of the live-action adaptation of the manga.
Dai Miyazaki (producer): 18:35 min.
Tadanobu Asano (Kakihara): 6:12 min.
Nao Omori (Ichi): 6:11 min.
Sabu (Suzuki): 5:21 min.
Shinya Tsukamoto (Jijii): 5:18 min.
Sabu and Tsukamoto: 22:00 min.
Eli on Ichi (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 7:11 min.): Director Eli Roth (Hostel) gushes over Ichi the Killer and director Miike.
Ichi Gallery (480p, 2:17 min.)
Memories of Ichi (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 48:53 min.): Designed as a comprehensive behind the scenes documentary on various aspects of the production, this supplement is the true cream of the crop on this release. I wish we were given more interview time with Miike, but at least he provides adequate insight when given the chance.
The Cult of Ichi (480p, Dolby Digital 2.0, 10:21 min.): Various American writers and critics comment on their reaction to Miike's vision.
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I'm not about to suggest Ichi the Killer is high art, but if you're in the mood for twisted entertainment and aren't easily offended, this should fit the bill. Beyond the usual film recommendation, this is one case where a technical evaluation should take center stage. Aside from modest gains in detail, the image quality ranks among the bottom of the Blu-ray barrel, sporting washed out hues and shoddy source material that struggles in almost every way. Additionally, while I commend Tokyo Shock on their decision to include multiple lossless audio options, the resulting gains are far from substantial, leaving us with little justification for an upgrade over the prior DVD version. In the end, I'd only recommend a purchase of the Blu-ray edition if you're a hardcore fan or don't currently own the prior release. For all others, a rental should suffice.
Ichi the Killer Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ichi the Killer Blu-ray Shipping Now - March 31, 2010
This is not a joke. The Blu-ray release of Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer from Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters, first announced in December 2008 but delayed on several occasions, and technically released on February 23 but never physically available, appears now as ...
• No Ichi the Killer Blu-ray Yet - February 24, 2010
We have lost count of how many times Tokyo Shock has delayed the Blu-ray of Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer. However, this time hopes were high among enthusiasts that the February 23 date would stick. Alas, Tuesday came and went and no retailers have received any ...
• Today on Blu-ray - February 23rd - February 23, 2010
The name Steven Soderbergh immediately provokes images of intense, thought-provoking dramas akin to his previous efforts (which include Erin Brockovich, Traffic, and Che). Say the name Matt Damon, and the mind is drawn to the image of an intense actor who starred ...
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