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Extreme Cinema is not everybody’s cup of tea. Indeed, the minimum specifications require a strong stomach, wince-free nerves of steel and a heart like a lion if you wish to get though to their end. This three-disc box set aptly titled Ichi the Killer not only comes discharged with a great twin-set live action movie, but a great little anime side-serving too.

Film (Ichi the Killer)
I have a confession to make. This is the first time I have ever experienced a film of this nature. I have experienced Japanese cinema beforehand, but only in the replete from of Hayao Miyazaki. Considering the nature of Asian cinema, Ichi the Killer director Takashi Miike has introduced me to a world of violence and pseudo-fun that I thought was a non-existent art form in this day and age.

Ichi the Killer Box Set
The story is fairly simple (better observed in the original language of course) and centres around a mafia-like gang of ultra violent youths led by a masochistic leader. They are in search of a Yakuza boss who ran off with a serious amount of money. Apart from a few twists and turns, that’s basically it. The rest of the story is mostly ultra violence and shocking imagery, but not without smartness I might add.

The opening sequence of Ichi the Killer alone confirmed to my confused mind that I was in for a ride quite like no other. The camera whizzes about over the cityscape, frantically fusing in and out of focus, whirling about in a blaze of colour and generally giving you the impression that you have been intoxicated for some time. But that’s only the beginning.

Explaining the opening title alone would require almost x-rated explicitness in order to account. This film is seemingly packed to the brink with jaw dropping profanity, and it’s everywhere and even in places you’d least expect. One such torture scene had me on the verge of pressing the stop button to take a breather. Ichi’s gritty, low budget stylization only aids the film’s disturbing wallop and three’s absolutely no shame in admitting that at times it can get too extreme.

Inexpensive this film is, but directorially it’s ripe with a creative intellect and style not seen since the original Matrix. Camera angles are always guaranteed to make you nauseous, as are the mega gory and down right twisted nature of most of the icky scenes—scenes that this film has in plentiful doses. I have yet to see a film on this scale, and to be honest it’s worth watching just to see what the controversy was about. Its weird, it can often be freaky as hell but its one insanely cool ride, a ride I will take again and again if only to delight in the expressive style Takashi Miike dispenses into this feature. It might be sick and it might be brutal, but its hardcore entertainment for those who can tolerate it.

Film (Ichi the Killer: Anime)
Weirdness and coolness being the focal epicentre of this entire experience only expands to cult brilliance with the addition of the anime movie of the same name. Acting like the Animatrix was to the Matrix saga, this anime delight tosses around some story anecdotes and dishes out brilliantly construed moments that only go to heighten the live action feature itself.

Once again it’s evident that budgets were low here, but not to worry. The imagery is often bland, the paintings very low key but what works here is what (in my opinion) feels more like a comic book affair than most animation features aim to achieve. This combination of visual flatness and the extra violent goodness create a pleasing yet perverse fifty minutes that is guaranteed to thrill. Every painful moment is captured beautifully and illustrated in a way which tugs on your nerve endings.

Through this anime is not necessary viewing, it is certainly recommended. You probably won’t watch it as often as the main feature and it’s not as extreme as it leads you to believe, but it‘s a damn fine piece of entertainment all the same. Just like its bigger brother, Ichi the Killer will affect you in more ways that you might think, emotionally and psychologically. Only watch it if you have the guts to (no pun intended).

Ichi the Killer Box Set
The feature film is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio that surprisingly delivers. It can sometimes be dark and dingy but the image always seems to hold up, even though some blurriness and heavy grain. The transfer itself remains faithful enough to its source throughout every frame delivering solid detail and atmospheric ambience end-to-end. It’s nothing fancy, but it looks as good as it will ever likely look and as good as it should look.

The anime presentation is unfortunately suited to a 1.33:1 (full-frame) ratio but the image remains strong. As mentioned in the above review, the images here are mostly bland but come across sharply nonetheless. I wouldn’t compare this image to any of the more recent animation releases (Western or Asian) because I don’t think it lives up to any of them (in retrospect). Still, for what it’s worth it is good enough and shouldn’t disappoint.

First thing’s first; Do not use the English dub (on either disc). The dub is lip-bitingly awful, so bad in fact that it’s barely believable. Do yourself a favour and stick with the original Japanese version. At least, that would be my advice.

Both the live-action and the anime feature are graced with a non-glorified Dolby mix. Both are pretty muted but not without clarity. There’s very little LFE on either movie; directional effects are almost a no-show, but the sound is far from bad. It may be quiet sometimes, but it certainly makes up for it in the centre channel. Dialogue is richly satisfying and often tinged with quality only heard in higher budget efforts. The live action movie is by far the best in this regard, but the anime will do its job, and do it rather well.

First up is the audio commentary for the live action feature. Conducted by a host of guests including Asian Cinema expert Bey Logan, actress Alien Sun, and the producer Elliot Tong, I found the commentary track to be decent if nothing exceptional. It was a great deal of fun to learn so much trivia but I feel there was a slightly lacking presence here, possibly that of the film’s director Takashi Miike.  

Venturing onto disc two there appears to be a battalion of features. Unfortunately they are comprised of mostly interviews or galleries which skim on being boring from time to time but seemingly deliver one-off enlightenment on all you really want to know about the production, cast and crew.

Ichi the Killer Box Set
The interview gallery unloads tonnes of information from Miike himself and many others in this rather lengthy feature. It remains all too simple and straightforward for my liking, never really going in deep enough to encapsulate complete satisfaction. Miike often averts giving away too much on the films inner meanings, seemingly leaving our imaginations to spark accordingly.

The alternative interview, outtakes and behind the scenes footage are mostly generic in body and don’t particularly elevate your understanding, but you wouldn’t be ill advised to miss them either. Aside from these, the disc is mostly populated by art galleries and publicity-orientated material.

In saying that, you’ll also notice a salubrious dose of promotional extras peppered throughout this disc, be it trailers, showcases for forthcoming movies etc. It’s no major blip but worth noting nonetheless. On the plus side however, they do serve a good purpose. Those who (like me) have no great knowledge of the genre now have access to discovering more. With this variety undoubtedly awash with cult status, I figure it is harder to be “in the know” with prior or forthcoming titles, so their presence on this disc is a welcome one.

On the anime disc there really isn’t much to talk about. Aside from the pretty catchy animated menu screens the only real feature of note is the ‘Beyond the Blade’ featurette, located within the ‘Behind the Live Action Movie’ section. There really isn’t all that much on the actual anime movie itself and indeed the trailer on the disc is specifically related to the live action movie instead.

Ichi the Killer Box Set
Directorial-wise this film is a creative masterpiece. I would advise not watch it if you are prone to constant wincing or have a weak bladder to these sorts of films. It’s gory, disturbing, sickening and often so crazy that it may leave you wondering what the heck this film was about by the time the credits role. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries of all. Exactly what this movie represents and what it actually stands for, rests in the mind of one man: director Takashi Miike. That said it is worth a gander if curiosity ensues.

The DVD package is mostly impressive and will certainly be everything fans are looking for. Images on both live action and animation features are modestly gratifying as are Dolby’s mixes which cover both films.

If you crave for films of this explicit nature then I couldn’t recommend it highly enough, but a word of caution once more. Not everyone will delight in this film (or should I say film-experience) and I don’t think I have ever in my life seen something that could potentially spilt people right down the middle.