Kill Bill Vol. 1

So why are we reviewing a live-action film here at The Anime Review? Simple enough. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is live anime, in many respects. However, that wouldn't be sufficient to qualify a review on these pages. As some know (and many don't), director Quentin Tarantino has included an approximately eight minute anime sequence in his latest opus. Considering that the section was animated by Production I.C., the house responsible for the artwork in Jin-Roh and Ghost in the Shell, it's no small thing. Is it worth the price of admission just to see this little bit? It depends on your viewpoint of martial arts epics. It's the spiritual kin to Fist of the North Star: graphically violent beyond all reason, stylized, and over the top. This is not for the Yu-Gi-Oh set.

Kill Bill itself is about The Bride (played by Uma Thurman) who was nearly murdered on her wedding day, along with her fiancé and the whole wedding party. Four years later, she awakes from her coma and swears revenge, which she takes in style. That's it. The whole plot pretty much revolves around how she goes about getting back at the deadly bunch who tried to take her down. The anime section of the film gives the back-story of O-Ren Ishii, the first person on her hit list. A Japanese-American who watched the family murdered at the hands of yakuza, Ishii works her way to the top of the crime syndicates by taking down all those who wronged her--not unlike The Bride, in her own way.

We've recently seen animation used to connect various parts of series together. The Animatrix provided some excellent background that makes The Matrix Reloaded a much more powerful experience. And although it's not really anime, we'll soon be seeing the Clone Wars, which are supposed to be short animated bits that connect the second and third episodes of Star Wars together. But the animated segment of Kill Bill Vol. 1 is completely different. In using it to create a history for a particular character, Tarantino has made it a part of his movie rather than relegating it to a made-for-video release or a web special. It is an intriguing and thoughtful concept, if not entirely new.

The biggest problem with the section is this question: is it absolutely necessary? No, and that's its biggest failing. We aren't supposed to root for Ishii at all, so having this anime version of her story is interesting but by no means really important. Tarantino included it because it was cool, not because it drives the story. Is it memorable? Absolutely. Filled with gore and a camera shot that Tarantino could only get away with in anime form, it is not something one would easily forget. It's done in a sketchy, comic-book format that doesn't really resemble much but the most experimental of anime, but there's no denying its roots. In many ways, the bit very much resembles Yasoumi Umetsu's violent coming-of-age story Kite in tone if not in look.

Whether or not you'll like the anime in Kill Bill will very much revolve around how you like your films. Kill Bill Vol. 1 is awash in blood, spattered from head to toe in it. Its attitude is very much like that of the original Vampire Hunter D and Ninja Scroll--everything that gets in the way of the objective must be hacked up. But it's so over the top that you cannot take the violence seriously. Psychologists may analyze the repercussions of this sort of violence for years, but in a way, it's thrilling and exhausting. Though I didn't like everything about the movie--mainly the lack of a plot beyond plain and simple revenge--it is incredibly nice to see a flick that has real stunts and real action. I'm not much for immense gore, but somehow I got through and wound up enjoying it anyway. And for those who've seen and appreciated Tarantino's other films, this one has all the funky music and quirky tricks (if not great dialogue) we've come to expect from the mad genius.

So let the buyer beware...Kill Bill Vol. 1 has been touted as the most violent American movie ever. That's debatable. For anime fans, the desire to see the film may be simply to see what Quentin Tarantino has done with an art form they love. It's not going to revolutionize the anime industry, but it's interesting for what it is. Don't go in expecting the next Akira, and you'll likely be pleasantly surprised.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 -- extreme graphic violence, extreme profanity -- B+