The film stars Tadanobu Asano as Kakihara, a sadomasochist yakuza enforcer with a Glasgow smile who enjoys giving and receiving pain in about equal measures. Kakihara's boss Anjo is murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion and a mysterious group arrives to clean up all evidence of the murder, stealing 300 million yen Anjo had in his room while there.
Many of Kakihara's compatriots, including Anjo's English, Cantonese, and Japanese-speaking girlfriend Karen (Paulyn Sun appearing as Alien Sun), suspect that Anjo simply took the money and ran, but Kakihara is convinced the man has been kidnapped. His investigation leads him to brutally torture a member of a rival clan, Suzuki (Susumu Terajima), by suspending him from a ceiling with metal hooks through the man's back, shoving metal yakitori skewers through his body, and pouring boiling oil (from a meal of tempura) on him. In an example of the film's extremely black humor, when asked what he is doing, Kakihara responds nonchalantly, "Just a little torture."
Suzuki turns out to be innocent. To make restitution, Kakihara slices off the end of his tongue and offers it to Suzuki's boss (Jun Kunimura). However, the man who tipped Kakihara off to Suzuki and may have more real information, a disheveled old man nicknamed Jijii ("grandpa" or "old man") (Shinya Tsukamoto), is nowhere to be found.
Jijii, it turns out, is secretly orchestrating events in order to pit Yakuza clans against one another. In the original manga, it is openly stated that he is a former cop, though this is not disclosed in the film. Under Jijii's wing is a young man, Ichi (Nao Omori), who is normally unassuming and cowardly but becomes homicidal when enraged.
Ichi outfits himself in a rubber stuntman suit with shoes that have razors concealed in the heels, and has crying fits when committing his murders.
Being a confused and apparently psychotic individual who murdered his own parents, he was adopted and so manipulated by Jijii as to confuse sexual arousal with homicidal lust; this was accomplished by creating a false memory of witnessing a rape in high school, which he felt ashamed for wanting to participate in rather than stop. It is later implied that Karen was also a victim of this psychological manipulation, her role in the false memory being that of the actual rape victim.
A subplot in the first half of the movie involves Ichi spying on a pimp who regularly brutalizes the prostitute that Ichi sees in the club that he goes to. The pimp finds him watching outside and drags him in and harrasses him by the fact that he is crying. Ichi goes into his violent sadist state and kills the pimp by slicing him in half with a razor blade from the end of his shoe. He then talks to the half-dead girl about how he wants to beat her up (not knowing that it is wrong). The prostitute grabs the pimp's baseball bat and tries to kill Ichi, yet Ichi almost automatically slits her throat with his razor-shoe before screaming and laughing at the same time.
Kakihara is eventually thrown out of the syndicate for his transgressions, but not before catching word of Ichi. He becomes fascinated with this "total sadist" since perhaps through him he can finally find the ultimate pain he has been seeking—one which neither Karen nor his boss could give him. In a related plot development, Jijii attempts to get better control over Ichi by having Karen seduce him, but the plan backfires and Karen is slaughtered.
Kakihara enlists the help of a pair of corrupt twin police detectives to find Myu-Myu, a prostitute connected with Jijii's gang. They torture her for information by breaking her nose and slicing her nipples off. They find one of Jijii's henchmen in his apartment, where he escapes the two, yet runs into Kakihara in an alleyway. He then slowly attacks Kakihara by punching him. Kakihara, being a strong masochist, stands there taking his blows, intimidating him by saying "There's no love in your punches" and "Giving pain is a serious business". He takes out the pins from his mouth, making it much wider. Long punches him, where his fist lands straight in Kakihara's mouth. Kakihara bites down, Long screaming in agony, and kicks him, ripping off the skin of his hand exposing his bones. We see Long in the room, tied to a chair where Myu-Myu is, where Kakihara and the two torture him to find out where Ichi is (throwing thick metal needles from a distance into his face). He doesn't know, and a text to Kakihara says that his penis must be cut in two and pierced. Kakihara then goes to cut his penis with a pair of scissors; however, at this point, Ichi arrives at Kakihara's compound, and kills the two.
The Kaneko, the masochist and the sadist chase each other to the rooftop in a memorable battle. Due to prior psychological manipulation, Ichi believes that Kaneko is his brother and thus refuses to fight Kakihara. Kaneko shoots the side of Ichi's legs, where he cries and slits Kaneko's throat in front of his son Takeshi, bleeding all over him, who then goes and kicks Ichi while he is lying on the roof-top crying. Kakihara soon realizes Ichi cannot hurt him, so he inserts two skewers into both his ears (to the extent that he is deafened) in a suicide attempt. He then looks up as the camera pans to Ichi, standing up in tears holding Takeshi's head in his hand, with the child's corpse lying next to where he stands.
Ichi charges at Kakihara and, following a brief fight, embeds one of his razor-bladed boots in the center of Kakihara's head. Kakihara stumbles back, claiming it is the greatest feeling ever as he falls off the rooftop to his death. Kakihara is found on the compound floor by Jijii, dead but apparently unwounded by Ichi's final attack. This reveals that Kakihara was hallucinating and had imagined the attack; he had thus committed suicide. Jijii begins to cry.
For reasons not made clear to the viewer, Jijii himself is found hanging from a tree in the last moments of the movie; whether he committed suicide or was killed is unknown. In the last few seconds, a young man resembling an older Takeshi (Kaneko's son) turns around after a crow flies past him, suggesting that he took revenge on Jijii. Ichi's fate is left undisclosed.
Cast and roles
|Susumu Terajima||Suzuki, of the Funaki gang|
|Shun Sugata||Takayama, of the Anjo gang|
|Kiyohiko Shibukawa||Ryu Long|
|Suzuki Matsuo||Jirô / Saburô|
|Hiroyuki Tanaka||Kaneko, Anjo's bodyguard|
|Moro Morooka||Coffee shop manager|
|Houka Kinoshita||Sailor's lover|
|Hiroshi Kobayashi||Takeshi, Kaneko's son|
|Noko Morishita||Pub Patron|
|Setchin Kawaya||Pub Proprietor|
|Yuki Kazamatsuri||Yakuza Girl|
|Sakichi Satô||Man Kicking Ichi|
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Director Takashi Miike intended for the author of the original manga, Hideo Yamamoto, to write a script entirely in manga form, but the idea fell through when Yamamoto felt he could not complete it due to writer's block.
The director was Takashi Miike.
As a publicity gimmick, vomit bags were handed out at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to those attending the midnight screening of this film. Similar bags were handed out during the Stockholm International Film Festival. Reportedly, watching the movie caused one person to throw up and another to faint.
This film was followed by a prequel, titled 1-Ichi, which was directed by Masato Tanno in 2003 for a direct-to-video-release. The film follows a young Ichi contending with violent bullies in school, and eventually realizing his strengths. The prequel was written by Sakichi Sato, who also wrote this film, as well as an animated prequel, titled Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero. (Episode Zero follows the continuity of the manga series on which the films are based. This is apparent, as it has several scenes that contradict the continuity of Ichi the Killer and 1-Ichi.)
- Ichi the Killer at the Internet Movie Database
- Ichi the Killer at Allmovie
- Ichi the Killer at Metacritic
- Ichi the Killer at Rotten Tomatoes