Those who joined prolific young Nippon helmer Takashi Miike’s growing legion of cult admirers after horror drama “Audition” will find a different — albeit no less stomach-churning — side to his talents in “Ichi the Killer.” Completely over-the-top yakuza actioner — featuring nonstop mayhem, gore, torture and S&M — duly reflects its comic book origins in both style and barely coherent narrative frenzy. Cartoonish as it often is, pic still reps a bad-taste challenge to all but the strongest constitutions (promo materials aptly include a barf bag); even those up to the task may find 128-minute running time too much of an exhausting, frenetic good thing. Outrageous violence, including some particularly nasty sexual abuse of women, will make this a tough export even as it guarantees wanna-see value among extremist genre fans.
You know restraint ain’t on the menu when title rises from a pool of spilt semen. Crazed scenario, adapted by Sakichi Sato from Hideo Yamamoto’s manga serial, involves a tangle of violent reprisals that follow the apparent kidnapping of a mob boss.
Telltale splattered guts at the abduction scene point toward Ichi, a mysterious, unaffiliated avenger. Ichi is noted for weeping during his one-man massacres, accomplished via martial arts use of razor-tipped boots. But no one knows who he is, or what he looks like under his head-to-toe padded leather outfit.
Chief among those determined to find out is Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano of “Gohatto”), a punky, white-haired, multi-pierced nutcase who’s in temporary control of the boss-deprived Anjo mob. Kaneko’s bloodlust is surpassed only by his thirst for pain — sadism and masochism are conjoined pleasures for many characters here — so his quest for Ichi spares no abuse, outward- or self-directed. Soon Kakihara’s baroque tactics have inflamed hitherto friendly rival gangs against the dwindling Anjos.
Despite myriad pursuers, enigmatic Ichi manages to remain at large. Typical of the pic’s impudent humor is the eventual discovery that he’s a baby-faced, milquetoast youth (Nao Omori) susceptible to sexually charged, take-no-prisoner rages at the apparent command of a brainwashing mastermind. Intermittently hilarious and always cinematically risk-taking, “Ichi the Killer” has as much in common with superhero cheeseballs like “Inframan” and Troma epics as it does with the yakuza and S&M porn epics it parodies by one-upping.
Resulting pulp insanity careens on a high-octane mix of jet-black humor, frenetic stylization, surreal fillips, nonstop action excess and gross-out f/x that at some point will nauseate or offend nearly every viewer; even hardy gonzo-cinema auds will likely find the hectic pace overstimulating to the point of numbed-out tedium.
Perfs run the gamut from deadpan to unhinged. Design and tech aspects suggest working on this was a stalled-adolescent-manga-nerd’s dream come true. Whether it’s as much fun to actually watch is a question, one suspects, relatively few offshore viewers will have the chance to answer.