How Ichi the Killer brought ultra-violence to the mainstream


But there was a faction under the J-horror umbrella – a term that perhaps better describes the influx of evocative Japanese films to the West during this period rather than a uniform style or genre. which arguably left an even bigger impact than those more mainstream horror films, like Ring and Dark Water. While these titles fostered subtle psychological tension, drawing inspiration from Noh and Kabuki theater and Japanese folk mythologies for their visuals and themes, films like the aforementioned Audition, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) and Sion Sono’s Suicide Circle (2001) haired ghosts and subtle psychological tension, instead emphasizing ultra-violent settings and taboo subjects such as torture, child murder and mass suicide. “It was something we had never seen before,” Adam Torel, managing director of the UK’s leading Japanese film distribution label, Third Window Films, told BBC Culture. However, he claims that one film in particular led the field with the limits it dared to push.

“Varous and perverse”

Ultra-violent and provocative, Ichi the Killer deploys his supercharged cinematic language in a few delirious moments. Chaotic, jerky camera movements and hyper-kinetic editing style turn Tokyo’s Shinjuku district into a neon blur at the start of the film, while the lively drums and industrial guitar sounds of Karera Musication (a side project of the band avant-garde noise-rock soundtrack Boredoms) provide a confusing soundtrack. Shortly thereafter, the fate of missing yakuza boss Anjo is confirmed to audiences with a cut in a room covered in CGI blood and cow intestines – and the film’s intense visual identity is made clear.

“This comes straight from V-Cinema,” Chika Kinoshita, professor of film studies at Kyoto University, told BBC Culture, of the frantic style of directing the low-budget film. It refers to the flourishing direct video market that emerged in Japan in the late 1980s, just as the economic bubble burst; a new arena that paved the way for young directors like Miike, Nakata and Kurosawa to prove their worth. Having established themselves in a field that emphasized cheap thrills for eye-catching VHS box covers, these filmmakers would hit the big screen almost exactly the same time Japan snatched its historic triple victory at major festivals. world cinema.

While Miike shared the benefits of these industry changes with many emerging J-horror directors, Ichi the Killer drew his aesthetic influences from elsewhere. Traditionally, “J-horror is much quieter and more atmospheric,” says Kinoshita, and indeed, the parallels between films like Ring and Ju-on: The Grudge with classic Japanese horror texts such as Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo, 1968) and Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1965) are obvious. Rather, Ichi the Killer had a closer affinity with brutal and energetic gangster thrillers of the 1970s, such as Fukasaku’s Battles Without Honor or Humanity series, Kinoshita explains. These films were marked by acts of violence filmed with portable cameras, taking place in the chaotic black markets of postwar Hiroshima in an economic crisis that in many ways anticipated that of the 90s. , the cult classic of Fukasaku Battle Royale – an ultra-violent flylord over a class of children tasked with fighting to the death – cemented its own position as a central part of the “Asia Extreme” revolution . Miike would explicitly acknowledge his debt to The Master a year after Ichi the Killer was released, when he remade Fukasaku’s 1975 gangster classic, Graveyard of Honor.


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