• Ichi The Killer

    Released by: Well Go USA
    Released on: March 20th, 2018.
    Director: Takashi Miike
    Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Nao Omori, Shinya Tsukamoto, lien Sun, Sabu
    Year: 2001
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    The Movie:

    Based on Hideo Yamamoto's manga series of the same name, Takashi Miike’s 2001 film Ichi The Killer opens with a scene wherein a pimp brutally beats and rapes a prostitute in his stable. The titular Ichi (Nao Omari) watches from the balcony and masturbates to a finish, at which point the film’s opening title appears in his ejaculate. It’s clear, right from the opening moments of this film, that Miike isn’t fucking around.

    From there, the central story begins. The underboss of the notorious Anjo yakuza clan is murdered. Jijii (Shinya Tsukamoto) and his crew are sent in to clean up the mess and it’s mentioned that Ichi must have been the one responsible for the gory murder. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), the masochistic enforcer for the Anjo clan who has a penchant for body modification, is unsure that the boss is dead. He figures he split with a hooker on his arm and a bag with 3 million in Yen inside. So Kakihara starts digging around, first at a night club where Boss Anjo’s girlfriend, Karen (Alien Sun), hangs out, no figuring that maybe he was kidnapped or something. When he runs into Jijii, the cleaner tells Kakihara that Suzuki (Susumu Terajima) of the rival Funaki Clan may have been the one that kidnapped him. He subsequently kidnaps and tortures Suzuki and is forced to cut off his own tongue as penance when it’s found out that he was innocent.

    Kakihara, however, is undeterred by this and still hellbent on finding Boss Anjo. When they eventually capture and interrogate a member of Jijii’s crew named Kano, he spills it – he didn’t kill Anjo, but he knows Ichi did… and that Kakihara is next on his hit list. Ichi, meanwhile, is going after the pimp from the opening scene, having fallen for the beaten-up hooker we learn is named Sailor (Mai Gato), but that relationship doesn’t last long or end well. As politics between the different clans come into play, eventually Suzuki offers Jijii a million yen to take Kakihara out of the picture – at which point it’s clear that one clan is using the easily manipulated Ichi (normally a calm and unassuming guy who just happens to have the tendency to fly into a homicidal rage from time to time) as their own personal killing machine.

    As darkly comedic as it is twisted and violent, Ichi The Killer is a sprawling and complex story of warring gangsters, put upon prostitutes and one meek, broken young man more dangerous than anyone really realizes. Ichi’s by far the most interesting character in the film. Nao Omari plays the quiet, unassuming type incredibly well. He’s been used, abused and lied to his entire life so when he snaps, which is often brought about by his own feelings of inadequacy, it’s quite the sight to see him go from a wet blanket to a killing machine. It can also be frequently amusing, if your sense of humor leans towards the dark side of the spectrum.

    If Ichi is the most interesting character, however, as good as Nao Omari is Tadanobu Asano gives the best performance. As Kakihara, he’s hyper-cool, exhaling his (clearly digitally born) cigarette smoke through the slits in his cheeks, strutting about Shinjiku’s dive bars and shooting galleries in a metallic purple trench coat with his bleach blonde hair really making him stand out. He’s arrogant, he’s violent, he’s a sadist and a masochist and Asano couldn’t be better in the role. Supporting work from Tetsuo The Iron director Shinya Tsukamoto and the lovely Alien Sun is also really solid.

    As to the direction, Miike doesn’t hold back here. Often shot with handheld cameras and what looks an awful lot like natural lighting, Ichi The Killer is often times a grubby looking movie. Some of the digital effects show their age, unfortunately, but a lot of the violent set pieces still pack a serious punch (the infamous scene in which Suzuki is suspended from the ground by hooks in his back only to have Kakihara pour the boiling oil he just used to cook his tempura in stands out). The film doesn’t shy away from physical and sexual violence, from bloodshed, from drug use or from gore. Often times the camerawork and the kinetic editing style can be dizzying, but it’s effective in creating a sense of urgency and unpredictability. Miike beats us over the head with some serious shocks in the first twenty-minutes of the film, but once he gets that out of his system and the story itself starts to take over, even if the film never really calms down, it becomes legitimately engaging thanks to some interesting characters and genuinely inspired acting.


    This Blu-ray release of Ichi The Killer presents the new 4k restoration of the two-hour-and-eight-minute movie on a 25GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen. The film was originally shot on 16mm stock, then transferred to HD video for editing, and then to 35mm for exhibition. It’s from the 35mm inter-negative, used for creating theatrical prints, that this restoration has been sourced and we have to keep that in mind when evaluating the picture quality. HD video in 2001 wasn’t as technically impressive as it is in 2018, and so some deficiencies are basically ‘baked in’ to the source. This is a nice step up from the DVD release (the previous Blu-ray from Media Blasters isn’t available to compare but it reportedly looked terrible) but it isn’t without some issues. The opening scenes show some obvious compression artifacts (these are less frequent as the movie plays out but still noticeable from time to time) and for the first half hour or so of the movie some noticeable flicker occurs during darker scenes that’s a bit distracting. This is usually noticeable on the left side of the screen but is also present on the right side from time to time. Darker scenes in the film have always looked pretty murky, some of that murkiness remains on this transfer but we definitely get better detail and less crush than we’ve seen in the past. Flesh tones usually look okay but the use of grubby, dark interiors and intentionally low-key lighting can sometimes make things appear a little muddy. Black levels are decent and color reproduction is fine – though again, the lighting and color scheme mean that not everything here is going to ‘pop’ the way some might expect it to. The image is free of any noticeable noise reduction and edge enhancement problems. Really, anyone expecting this to be a reference quality image was probably unrealistic in their expectations, but so far as I can tell this is the best-looking version of this film currently available on home video and by a good margin at that.

    The Japanese language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc, which contains English subtitles that translate both the Japanese language used in most of the film and the occasional bits of dialogue spoken in English by Alien Sun’s character, is really strong. There’s very good channel separation here and great use made of the rear channels when the movie calls for it. Bass response is strong and tight and it manages to really thump when the movie calls for it, but it never buries the dialogue which sounds clean, clear and concise. The white subtitles are easy to read and free of any noticeable typos.

    Extras start off with a commentary featuring Takashi Miike and manga writer/artist Hideo Yamamoto which will be familiar to those who have owned past US DVD editions of the film. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, this is an interesting track that covers quite a bit of ground. It’s partially scene specific, particularly during the opening ten minutes or so of the film, as they discuss what’s being set up, the opening credits, and the characters that are introduced. As the movie plays out they also talk about scoring the film, the effects that are used in the film, digital/CGI work, casting the film, working with the actors on their characters, censorship issues that surrounded its original theatrical release, response to the film, the source material that inspired it and quite a bit more.

    Aside from that, the disc also includes a still gallery and a theatrical trailer for the movie’s re-release. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included and trailers for a few unrelated Well Go USA properties play before the aforementioned menus load.

    Past releases from Media Blasters and other companies have included a whole bunch of different cast and crew interviews as well as a making of featurette and few other interesting bits and pieces – none of those have been ported over to this release. Completists may want to hold onto those older discs for that reason.

    The Final Word:

    Ichi The Killer remains as wildly twisted and wickedly entertaining now as it was in 2001. Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release doesn’t add much to the film’s home video history in terms of extras but it does present this tricky looking film in a solid high definition presentation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!