A film title that appears from a pool of ejaculate. Geysers of blood erupting from a variety of major wounds. An enemy who has great admiration, and almost envy, for the individual that may cause his downfall. Psychosexual madness. Special effects that vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Yes, it's another Takashi Miike movie, and another one from what could be considered his peak period (which, for me, runs from abut 1998 to 2003, when his prolific output was matched by his inventiveness, and his reputation grew exponentially as film fans around the world discovered his filmography).
Nao Ohmori plays the titular character, a skilled and deadly assassin who has a tendency to get aroused when witnessing certain acts of violence. He is a deadly weapon, primed and pointed in specific directions by his "handler", Jijii (Shin'ya Tsukamoto). After killing a major crime boss, Ichi finds his fate intertwining with that of a sadomasochistic psychopath named Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano). Kakihara responds to the skill and viciousness of Ichi's actions, and seems to look forward to the day they will inevitably face off against one another. There's a lot more going on here, most of it to do with how Ichi is manipulated, and the consequences of that, but this basic summary covers what you need to know.
Despite the wild and over the top nature of the central characters, Ichi The Killer actually holds up as a surprisingly straightforward film from Miike, especially considering what else he was churning out during this period. The violence is extreme, and as fittingly sadistic as the main characters want to make it, and the central characters may be as ridiculous as they are murderous, but there are no sudden lurches into the completely supernatural or inexplicable.
The script by Sakichi Sato, based on the manga by Hideo Yamamoto, is dense and practically overflowing with memorable character moments. It may take a little while to get on board with what's going on, due to the way one scene is shown out of context just to start the film off, making very little sense until you get back to it again later, but that ends up being a good way to ensure that everyone knows exactly what ride they're on before it starts hurtling along the track at breakneck speed.
Although Ohmori is very good as Ichi, the film actually spends more time with Asano's character, which isn't a problem when he's delivering what I would say is one of the best performances in any Miike film. Strong words indeed, I know, but the mix of excess and restraint is perfect, and certainly a world away from many other performances that Miike has elicited from his stars (not that those performances are necessarily less enjoyable, or even less fitting, but he certainly used to prefer emotional extremes). Tsukamoto does well with his strong supporting role, acting innocent and deferential enough to people while ensuring his scheming continues to be successful, and there are also decent moments for Paulyn Sun, Susumu Terajima, Shun Sugata, and others.
But, aside from anything else, the main thing making this such a memorable viewing experience is Miike being wonderfully and unrelentingly Miike. He doesn't care if you're turned off by what he's about to show you, he's going to show it anyway, and not think twice about it. That's his strength, and sometimes his weakness, and it's what makes him the best choice for this material. He's an inconsistent, but brilliant, director. Ichi The Killer is up there with his very best work.
I will link to this set again. But feel free to click on the link and look for an uncut version.