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Review: Ichi the Killer (2001)

128 min. / Directed by Takashi Miike / Region 2 NTSC DVD
16:9 / DD and DTS / 7-25-2002 / 4935 Yen ($41.28)

It’s undeniable that many of the more adventurous new films are coming out of Asia, and it’s no secret that one of the best modern directors of this type of picture is none other than Takashi Miike. Each of his films seem to top one another in violent spectacle, and as of now the apex of his sadist spirit remains 2001’s brilliant Koroshiya 1 (literally translated Killer #1), aka Ichi the Killer. While most countries await the release of Ichi in some (possibly edited) form or another, Pioneer Japan has produced a superb 2-disc DVD special edition which despite lacking english subtitles is excellent in every other way.

Based on a popular Japanese Manga, Koroshiya follows a group of Yakuza living in the outlaw town of Shinjiku who are under attack from some unknown force. The film begins as their boss is slaughtered by the “ichi,” a killing force of such power that he literally reduces his victims to tiny bits of flesh. Ichi’s mess is cleaned up by a bunch of bumbling thugs lead by Jijii (Shinyo Tsukamoto, director of Tetsuo: Iron Man). The loss of the boss hits his head lieutenant Kakihara especially bad, since, In the words of one of prospective victims: “You were in love with Anjo, but it wasn’t because you were queer or admired him or something. It was because you loved the pain you felt when he beat you up.” Kahkira is an especially violent fellow; a masochist by trade with scars covering his body to prove it, he also enjoys dishing out pain as well. Kahkihara takes matters into his own hands and interrogates rival Yakuza leader Suzuki in his own special way: he suspends his body by jamming hooks into his flesh, fries up a big batch of shrimp and pours the sclauding grease all over his body. This bit of violences further inflames the group’s connection with the other Yakuza and eventually gets the whole group kicked out of the syndicate altogether. As Jijii makes further moves to attack the group using Ichi, Kahikhara braces for a final confrontation with Ichi, a psychotic force which could be a masochist’s dream. “

Many standard cinematic cliches are on hand but they’ve all been horribly mangled by Miike; There’s gangster who likes to get beaten more than he likes to beat, the assassin who breaks into tears before he erupts into violence. All Koroshiya1’s brutality is played in a very broad slapstick manner, but there’s still particularly-savage edge to many of the murders that may disturb or offend those not used to Japanese ultra-violence. 

Director Tsukamoto plays Jijii, who at first seems like an insignifigant character but is ultimately exposed as controlling nearly everyone’s fate by the end of the film. The moralistic center of the film appears in the form of a Sabu’s character, a disgrace police detective who feels great loyalty to the boss for letting him into the group and taking care of his debt. 

Although Miike’s original cut was released in Japan, most other territories have recieved the “international cut” of Koroshiya which edited slightly to take the horrifiic edge off the comic book violence and delete a few semi-important scenes of exposition. Makes sense, right? Well it definitley makes th. The HK Cat III DVD and VCD release of Ichi features this cut, and the alterations in this version include:

  • Every time Ichi slashes someone neck a fountain of blood shoots out. The throat slashings of Alien Sun and the Prositute are heavily edited, as well as brief cuts applied to most of these fountains of blood.
  • Suzuki’s torrture is signifigantly shorter in the cut version, especially Kahikihara needlework, which in the uncut version some pretty impressive digital effects shots where a needle actually travels straight through his jaw and exits his mouth, then cutting to Suzuki’s POV where the needle his between his eyes. The cut version include the POV but edtits the effects shots. Every shot of the grease burning suzuki’s body has been ripped from the edited version, including the finale of the scene where Khakihara melts the hair and skin off a complete whole section of Suzuki’s scalp.

While only deletions which really affect the film are the loss of the Sabu’s scenes but one would prefer the uncut version to get the full effect of the film and avoid some of the abrupt edits and continuity errors which are caused by the editing. This uncut version will eventually surfaces in other dvd releases but for now it’s only available in Region 2.

The first thing that struck me about this special edition set was the intricate and thoughtful detail of the packaging. An outer slipcase comes off to reveal a double dvd case similar to those found in the U.S .Se7en and Fight Club DVDs with the key difference being that the disc hubs awork like any good jewel case. No cracked discs or any other nonsense.

Disc 1 includes the a anamorphically-enhanced picture along wtih DTS and Dolby Digital Soundtracks along with what sounds like an entertaining commentary track featuring Miike and a few other people. The only subtitles available are chinese/japanese which are used for Actress Alien Moon’s brief sections of english dialogue. Fortunately of Englsh-speakers, English subtitles for the film are available throughout the internet. One strange anomaly of this disc is that’s 2/3s of the film is encoded in progressive 24p but then the mpeg-2 video abruptly switches to interlaced and continues to be interlaced until the end of the program.

The highlight of disc 2 is documentary on the making of Ichi. Nearly an hour in length, this in-depth program takes us primarily through the principle photography of movie, with an emphasis on the film’s numerous special effects set-pieces. There many interview segments with Miike as well as most of the cast and crew, which would be great if there were any english subtitles so we could actually understand it all. Besides the documentary, there’s also more interviews with Miike and and weird interview/attack piece called “Sabu vs. Shinyo.” Rounding out the disc are ,biographies for all the cast and crew, and odd interview piece called “Shinyothe film’s strange theatrical trailer and a number of still galleries full of stills, press material, costume/set designs as well as a lengthy section of Call Sheets.

Usually Pioneer releases these 2-disc titles as limited edition, and later on re-releases them in regular movie-only editions. Despite the lack of English subtitles, I doubt other regions will be able to top the level of extras supplied here. This release stands out as probably the best treatment Koroshiya 1 will get on home video.

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