Ichi The Killer Review

Ichi The Killer

Ichi The Killer is the Citizen Kane of arterial spray. There have been many violent and gruesome films before, but this one took it to an insane height. The manga it is based on was so extreme that it got banned in a few regions in Japan and the film itself was banned in Germany, Norway, and Malaysia, and faced severe editing in Hong Kong and the UK.

Ichi The Killer was the film that put director, Takashi Miike on the map. Cinephiles took notice of the intense, extreme films being shot in Japan and Miike became the shining example of the movement. He worked fast and efficiently. Miike’s style is unique and could work in any genre, but his gruesome exploitation with dark comedic elements and avant-garde sensibilities makes him one of the most distinct filmmakers working today.

It has been over 20 years since Ichi The Killer left its mark and opened the floodgates for extreme Asian cinema. The likes of Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead couldn’t happen without it. How has this dark comedy, yakuza drama with a horror twist held up over the years? Find out in this Ichi The Killer review!

Ichi The Killer (2001)
Production Company: Toho, Omega Project, Alpha Group
Publisher: Media Blasters (USA)

Director: Takashi Miike
Release Date: December 22, 2001

Ichi The Killer is a deranged love story set in the Japanese criminal underworld of yakuza gangs. Masao Kakihara is high ranking yakuza thug for the Anjo gang and he is distraught over the disappearance of Boss Anjo. Kakihara had a very bizarre relationship with his boss. They weren’t lovers in a traditional sense; Kakihara intensely loved the violence Anjo inflicted on him.

Kakihara is an enigmatic and heinous evil sadist. He is also so fiercely numb to pain that the only times he could feel anything was when his boss would savagely brutalize him. With boss Anjo gone, Kakihara’s existing cruelty is exacerbated and he will do anything to find him.

The problem is that Anjo is dead by the time the film starts. He was assassinated by Ichi in a bloody hit. Ichi becomes Kakihara’s obsession in his quest to feel again. Kakihara not only wishes to have a ferocious showdown with the assassin but to also experience the sensation of desperation from a merciless attack that only his boss could deliver.

Ichi the killer is a mess of a man himself. He was groomed at a young age to be an effective assassin. His crime scenes are as if a hurricane flew threw an abattoir; guts and body parts fly everywhere and sometimes his semen.

Ichi was twisted at a young age so he has a hopelessly distorted understanding of sex and death. It is like his sex drive and urge to kill are linked and his pent-up sexual frustration is expressed through violence.

His methods are unconventional too – wearing running shoes with a retractable blade on the back of his ankles, he slices and dices with kicks.

Ichi’s kills are fast and seemingly superhuman. In one scene he infamously splits a man down the middle who was in the middle of committing sexual assault on a prostitute.

The idea of this kill is awesome, but the CG effect used to pull it off is laughable. This was weak CGI even for a low-budget movie in the early 2000s. Regretfully, there are a couple of instances of very dodgy-looking computer effects.

There aren’t too many to drag Ichi The Killer down, but enough that they stick out. Most of the effects are done with practical appliances or very convincing makeup.

Kakihara’s signature look is especially effective; a Joker-style split mouth with a couple of piercings to keep his cheeks from completely opening. His weapons are massive needles that look roughly the size of chopsticks and he is adept at using them in brutal, yet creative ways.

Kakihara’s savagery and insane sadism make him seem like he isn’t even human. It is like he is some kind of demon in human form.

A lot of this is conveyed with the incredibly chilling and otherworldly performance by Tadanobu Asano. He also knows how to be funny, in spite of playing cinema’s most vile subhuman characters.

A special mention must be given to the unconventional soundtrack that is provided by Boredoms, an Osaka-based noise rock band.

The music in Ichi The Killer is so weird and unique that it becomes part of the film’s identity and texture. Sometimes the music sounds like chaos, other times you are unsure what the hell you’re hearing.

When the Ichi The Killer theme plays, it sounds like what it must feel like to have your head in a slowly closing vice. Other times the music sounds comical and it feels like it is making fun of the characters.

Due to the extremely graphic nature of many scenes and other sequences of sexual assault, Ichi The Killer is not the ideal romance story to show to a love interest.

The comedy scenes are surprisingly low-key and you might not even notice a scene is funny because of the surreal circumstances in the story. The humor is less of a “ha ha” funny and more of an introspective comedy.

Some people may not appreciate this off-beat tone. It can be best described as a scenario from any of the Yakuza video games but with nightmarish, Hellrasier-esque violence. If Clive Barker ever got involved with the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, Ichi The Killer is probably what you would get.

For a movie that runs slightly past the two-hour mark, there is never a dull moment and it is constantly exciting. You never know what you’ll see next with Ichi The Killer.

Just when you are beginning to relax, either Kakihara or Ichi does something fucked up and you feel your ass muscles clench in fear and disgust. It is rare to experience something that keeps you in a constant state of shock and awe.

More than 20 years later, Ichi The Killer still has a lot of bite. It is as transgressive as ever and one of the most extreme live-action manga adaptations shot on film. The story, dialogue, and visuals suck the viewer into this outlandish and seedy underbelly full of sex weirdos and violent degenerates.

Ichi The Killer was reviewed on Blu-ray using a copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Ichi The Killer is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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The Verdict: 9

The Good

  • Endlessly entertaining and infinitely rewatchable
  • Asano as Kakihara ranks as one of the greatest casting choices ever
  • The surreal noise-based soundtrack defies explanation but flawlessly sets a palpable mood
  • Exciting action scenes that are punctuated with insane levels of gore
  • Sickening yet awesome scenes of violence in a story that couldn't exist without it

The Bad

  • Several instances of poor CGI that was bad even for a low budget 2000s era film
  • It is a romance film that you can't watch on a date


A youth destined for damnation.

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