From 1/15/2004Response of the day…
On Wednesday, I saw Ichi the Killer by Miike Takashi, the trendy (in the US) director of ultra-violent blood-and-gore movies in Japan. Now, I am not a fan of slasher flicks. I saw the original Halloween and have since never seen any of its sequels. Nor have I ever seen any of the “films” like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. I mean, I barely know who Chucky is (Tampa Bay coach?), and I still don’t know what they did last summer. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider myself overly sqeamish, and I am certainly not a prude, but when it comes to violence, I want to have the movie place it in a greater social context. Violence for violence sake is, I think, unnecessary and those who relilsh in it are a minute and irresponsible segment of society. Unfortunately, they are also an influential segment as well, particularly on a young, impressionable, mostly male audience. While freedom of speech is an important concept within our society, with freedom comes responsibility and I often wonder if these directors hide behind the flag, behind this basic human right even as they cast a blind (read: ignorant) eye toward responsibility? Do they have any idea that maybe, just maybe, their films may be encouraging a generation of young people who are immune to violence only to crave even greater, more graphic violence?
Miike seems to have a response to this question by offering ultra-violence in this Ichi the Killer. This film focuses on the actions of two polar opposites: Ichi the ultra-sadist and Kakihara the closet ultra-masochist. Kakihara searches for the killer of his Kabukicho gang boss, Anjo, who also happens to be the one who–it’s suggested–developed and fulfilled Kakihara’s masochistic desires. He learns that the killer is a man named Ichi after torturing a rival gang leader. Ichi is a blubbering wimp, who is bullied by his manager at work–go ahead and die you idiot–but gets exxxcited when he sees someone sexually tortured and/or violated. And in the process of killing those who violate others, we learn he does this only so he can become the new violator. Ichi’s violence is being manipulated with some kind of hypnotic technique by someone referred to as Jijii–although dealt with as a proper name in the subtitles and in various reviews, to me suggests his relationship to Ichi, his uncle. Now it is unclear whether Jijii took advantage of an inherent predeliction to sadism in Ichi or if he developed it, but it is clear that he is using it to direct Ichi toward killing all member of the Anjo gang, especially Kakihara.
The movie progresses from one violent scene to another as both Kakihara and Ichi work their way violently from victim to victim. The violence is way over the top. For example, the torture of Suzuki, the rival gang leader who gave up Ichi’s name: this involved suspending him horizontally with multiple meat hooks, then pearcing his body with what looked like a crochet needle only shinier and sharper, and pouring hot oil over his entire body after cooking some shrimp tempura. Yes, this was a graphic scene, but by no means a spoiler. There are worse scenes, from extreme sexual violations to manga-like body dismemberment. You have to see it to “appreciate” it.
The two reach their confrontation at the climax, an inevitability in a Yin-Yang sort of way as they are perfect mirror opposites. Kakihara is in control, violent in public but masochistic in private; Ichi has no control of his fate, is passive in public but sadistic in private. Ichi, sometimes befuddled with his own violence, ultimately kills Kakihara, who for his part achieved a kind of ultimate maoschistic climax. The denouement–unlike the rest of the movie–was thought provoking: a scene with school children going through a park and Jijii shown hanging from a tree apparently having committed suicide. Walking behind the school children is Ichi. The effect is frightening in that it suggests that the manipulator, the one who had the violent intentions is dead, since he no longer had a reason to live as all the gang members had been elliminated. In contrast, the actual perpetrator of the violence lives on innocently like a child, not realizing his own actions, oblivious to any sense of responsibility, unaware to his nascent violent tendacies. Is this how Miike sees the future? Does he see the younger generation–out children–as Ichi? A pessimistic thought suggested by the same person who seems to be promoting it…
So do you watch slasher/violent films? Do you love the blood and gore or is it a complete turn off?