While watching Well Go USA’s new 4K transfer of Takashi Miike’s classic splatter flick Ichi the Killer, you may ask yourself whether or not one needs to see all that gore in super high-definition. Is it necessary, you may ponder, to see the insides of a man cut straight down the middle, or the viscera of a dozen nameless foes sloshed across the floor, blood dripping from the ceiling, or even the title cards rising from a puddle of semen in all its digitally restored, detailed resolution?
For fans of the highly influential, totally disgusting, and surprisingly funny film, the answer is a resounding yes. Ichi the Killer has never looked better. A fascinating development of the transfer, and one that strangely works in its favor is that both the practical effects and the CGI clearly show their seams. The effects were never perfect looking and now that they are crystal clear, their phoniness comes shining through.
But rather this being a defect of the new transfer, it's kind of a highlight. It makes the stomach-churning gore a little less nauseating and highlights the black comedic elements a little more. Despite its reputation as one of the most violently disgusting films ever made, Ichi the Killer has always had a high level of humor. Miike has a deep understanding of how to make the disturbing palatable by making us laugh while being repulsed.
When yakuza underboss Anjo goes missing, his enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) begins a violent, torture-laden search through the high-towering apartment building in which Anjo lived. Kakihara is not so much interested in Yakuza traditions or hierarchy, but boy, does he enjoy beating information out of people. Likewise, he has less a sense of duty over Anjo than he misses the way the boss used to skillfully and painfully punish him.
Prior to this, we see Ichi (Nao Omori) dressed in a black, body armor latex suit fitted with razor blades slice Anjo into bits. His friend JiJi (Shinya Tsukamoto) brings in a crew to clean up, leaving no trace of the former boss. JiJi then feeds Kakihara with rumors that rival gangster Suzuki (Susumu Terajima) may have had something to do with the disappearance. Happy to run with any rumor at all, Kakihara literally hangs Suzuki up by hooks and pours boiling water all over his body. When it is learned Suzuki had nothing to do with Anjo’s disappearance, Kakihara dishes out his own penance by cutting his tongue off.
This is just the beginning of the wild, gore-soaked ride that is Ichi the Killer.
Kakihara is a sado-masochist with a heavy emphasis on the masochist. When he sees the extreme violence being committed by Ichi, his only desire is to meet him, though he admits he is not sure whether he wants to kill Ichi or be killed by him. The thought of finding someone who may finally begin to hurt him like he wants fills him with ecstasy.
Throughout all of this bloody insanity, Miike weaves in really interesting questions about the nature of violence and its perpetuation through its use in cinema. It's a vomit-inducing splatter-fest with art-house aspirations that actually makes you think. God, I love this movie so much.
Well Go USA’s transfer really does look marvelous. Black levels are terrific and consistent, colors are vibrant, and details are crisp. Compared to my old DVD copy, this is a huge step up. Although it should be noted that Miike notoriously shoots fast and cheap and the picture retains that low-budget look. The audio mix is likewise very nice, robust and loud without every drowning out the dialogue.
Unfortunately, the extras are not nearly as wonderful as the transfer. There is a new trailer for the film, plus a couple for other Well Go USA films and a recycled audio commentary (in Japanese with English subtitles) with Miike and Hideo Yamamoto, the creator of the manga Ichi is based on. It's well worth the listen, but is old enough to have been included on my DVD copy of the film.
Ichi the Killer is designed for iron-laden stomachs who are desensitized to hardcore violence and is therefore the very definition of not-for-everyone, but for those able to make it through, there is a wealth of great cinema waiting for you. Well Go USA’s new transfer is a remarkable improvement over older versions, but the lack of new extras may make you keep your money in your wallet.
Ichi the Killer on Blu-ray is available March 20.