Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero

Takashi Miike has become one of the most controversial Japanese directors in recent memory. With two films, Audition and Ichi The Killer, he has established himself as the reigning king of ultraviolence. Despite their high body counts and extreme gore, the films have proven popular on the underground circuit in the US and around the world. Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero is an animated prequel, and much like the anime segment found in 2003's Kill Bill: Volume 1, it expands upon various characters' reasons for becoming the people they now are. However, whereas I found the short segment in Tarantino's flick enjoyable, I was just not up for Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero. Although I have possibly seen more gruesome and violent shows in my days as a reviewer, I have never sensed a show as patently evil in content as this one. Though watchable by normal standards of artistic competency, Ichi: Episode Zero is one I have to file next to Ninja Resurrection as a property too vile for consumption.

Episode Zero follows the story of Ichi as a soft-spoken young man who is constantly tormented by his peers. Beat up daily, he goes home at night only to be disparaged by his parents because of his failing grades. Ichi is ready to go over the edge. One day, pressured into dissecting a live frog in class, Ichi realizes the truth about himself: he is turned on by violence. After seeing a dead animal on the side of the road, Ichi winds up gratifying himself by slaughtering a bunch of rabbits. Tortured by this fetish and blackmailed by his only friend, Ichi's bloodlust starts working itself out in more and more grotesque ways. Finally, after a major turn of events, Ichi gets himself together, only to be exploited by a gang of criminals who recognize him for what he is: a true sadist.

Ichi is a story told well, in a variety of flashbacks and cuts that keep the audience guessing as to how everything fits together until the very end--at least, for an audience unfamiliar with the original film. Though its characters are uniformly ugly and grotesque, it is told with a particularly artistic flair. The OVA works not by showing us every violent act, but by creating an atmosphere of violence created by the soundtrack and the visual choices. Many scenes are told in only two colors as we see the disturbing nature of Ichi's very soul. From a film perspective, Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero is made in a surprisingly effective manner; I honestly hope that the filmmakers go on to do better things in the future.

The reason why I must fail Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero as an entertainment is because it is simply not entertaining. It is evil. Now in our postmodern world, that word carries little meaning; judgments like that are considered passé. But in the case of this brutal show, I believe it still fits. I have seen many violent entertainments in my time that I believe serve a real purpose; Fight Club, A Clockwork Orange, The Passion of the Christ, and many other films have much violence within their borders yet have a message and story far beyond the physical acts they portray. On the other hand, Ichi is violence for violence's sake. All the characters in Ichi are evil. Ichi is at first a sympathetic character, but as he wallows in his madness, he becomes unrelatable. One could argue that Ichi is about what can happen to a child who is too far bullied in his youth. However, what we experience is not so much about that as it is about creating this character who winds up being the ultimate sadist.

The mixture of sexuality and violence in this film is also extremely disturbing. Although I don't feel that this page and its audience needs to know the full extent of what Ichi contains, I can say this: there are things in this film no one ever needs see. I understand that the purpose of this film is to shock. If that's its only purpose, yes, then, it worked. But even good shockers like Halloween and Scream and The Shining have a plot, likeable characters, and someone to root for. Ichi gives you no one to like, only wall-to-wall images of sex, violence, and insanity. This is a nightmare exploded on the television set.

Ichi The Killer: Episode Zero is nothing more than a wallow in the pits of depravity. Let this review serve as a manhole cover so you don't wind up falling in that sewer by accident.

Ichi The Killer -- brutal and graphic violence, nudity/strong sexual content, language, disturbing film techniques -- F