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Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero (2004) – DVD Review


Written by Sakichi Satô and Hideo Yamamoto
Directed by Shinji Ishidaira

Released by: Central Park Media
Region: 1
Rating: 16+
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Not really worth it, honestly.

Ichi the Killer first entered the world as a live-action film by the incomparable Takeshi Miike. The film is an orgy of violence, sex, and gore, and is both over-the-top disturbing and damn near impossible to follow. The story, as told in the film, leaves dozens of loose threads hanging, most notably where this “Ichi” (“one” in Japanese) came from and what made him into a psychotic weeping assassin wreaking havoc on the Japanese underworld. In an effort to address this confusion, Takeshi authorized an animated prequel to the story, detailing the disturbing development of his titular assassin. Why animated? Well, for starters, I’m pretty certain he’d have needed to violate a whole host of child abuse laws to film this story with real people, so it was just simpler to have it all animated, where no concern about lasting damage to the child actors exists.

[ad#longpost]The basic gist of the story here, as stated above, is the backstory that leads to Ichi’s emergence as a violent psychopathic vigilante killer. So we start with young Ichi, wide-eyed and terrified as his S&M-obsessed father and mother romp in the next room. The parents are none too discrete about their proclivities, we soon learn, as Ichi is all-too-frequently exposed to his parents’ costumes, behavior, and sexual activity. This, perhaps understandably, warps the crap out of Ichi from his earliest years. This is compounded by his father’s penchant for randomly knocking the shit out of the kid.

Fast forward a bit to Ichi’s pubescent years, and the problems get more and more complicated. Having had violence and sex inextricably linked in his mind from his earliest childhood memories, it’s safe to say that Ichi has some unusual ideas about sex. This largely leads to an attempt to de-sexualize himself and deny the natural hormonal activity of a teenager. Which leads to explosive violence. All of this culminates with a hooker that brings Ichi into her place and then goads him into beating the shit out of her…only later will we discover that she’s been paid to pull that particular psychological trigger and fuck with Ichi’s head by the man that wants to turn him into a psycho vigilante.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), at forty-five minutes, the show’s not really long enough to do any of this delicate psychological analysis and character-building with a degree of finesse. It’s all quick-cut, blood-drenched, and hypersexualized. The end result is less a portrait of a budding serial killer and more a caricature of an exceedingly violent life that permanently damages Ichi. There are lots of “blood for the sake of blood” and “sex for the sake of sex” scenes thrown in that do little or nothing to advance the plot or develop characters, and there are several particularly disturbing animation sequences that are repeated on many occasions, ostensibly to reinforce how powerful those particular moments were in shaping Ichi’s twisted mind. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it saved them animation costs I’m sure.

This leads me to my chief technical gripe about the show: the animation. Choppy framerates and reused sequences make for an animated feature that just looks cheap. Even if a viewer was willing to grant all the story shortcomings a free pass, there’s a huge gap in the quality of this piece as compared to pretty much any of its contemporaries in the anime world. I don’t really understand this, especially given the huge cult popularity of Takeshi’s live-action original…the money had to be there for a more quality animation.

The DVD brings no bonus features to the party, so there’s another missed opportunity. Everything about the disc screams “cranked out in a hurry to try and capitalize on the original for a few more dollars.” The story is designed for those that liked only the most base elements of Takeshi’s film, without any of the depth or human interest that Takeshi can bring in even his most blood-drenched moments. The animation is bad and the voice acting mediocre. The DVD has no features. Can you see where this is going? That’s right: steer well clear of this one.

Buy it from Amazon.