Okay, first things first: Ichi is pronounced "ee-chee," not "itchy," otherwise this would probably be the long-awaited feature-film debut of a certain ultra-violent cat-and-mouse team from The Simpsons. But that's not to say Ichi the Killer (screens Saturday, August 16, at the Dryden) isn't brutal in its own right. Believe me, when director Takashi Miike is involved, there's usually more than enough violence to go around. In fact, I know a guy who got his hands on a bootleg DVD of Killer, and the on-screen menu alone was enough to send his wife from the room.
Consider yourself warned. Only the sickest bastards out there are going to want to even think about seeing Killer, which is based on Hideo Yamamoto's comics. It's so graphically out there, barf bags were dispensed when the film screened at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Midnight Madness program. I'm as numb as the best of them when it comes to gore, but even I felt fortunate to have watched Killer on video, just because it allowed me the chance to pause it, splash cold water on my face, and swallow the bile before resuming the bloodshed.
Even compared to Miike's other films, Killer is still shocking (it makes Audition seem downright pedestrian, and that might be the most disturbing statement I've made in my entire life). Body parts, including an impressive array of facial features, are hacked off and hit the floor with the emphatic thud of a freshly cubed Wile E. Coyote after a stunt gone wrong. Since Miike, the Japanese incarnation of Dario Argento (with a little bit of old-school Clive Barker thrown in for good measure), pumps out a staggering minimum of four to five films per year, you'd think he might show signs of slowing down, or at least becoming understandably redundant. But that doesn't appear to be the case --- at least not yet.
Killer's story involves a powerful Yakuza boss who, following a scene involving the rape and beating of a prostitute (calling all Irreversible fans!), disappears with 100 million yen. Suspecting foul play, his henchmen turn gangland Shinjuku upside down trying to find out what happened. Eventually, thanks to the help of the S and M-loving club hostess Karen (Alien Sun), the men are pointed in the direction of Ichi (Nao Omori), a troubled young man with a dark past.
There's a big showdown between Ichi and platinum-blond torturer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano), who also happens to be a big fan of the S and M thanks to the rather unusual relationship he had with his now-dead boss (in one darkly funny scene, Kakihara is able to identify the boss' blood simply by taste). But does Kakihara intend to kill Ichi, or will he fall in love with a potential replacement for his dearly departed boss? Odds are you'll be too nauseous to care. Odds are also pretty decent you'll think Killer is either pure genius, or the most horrifyingly repulsive picture ever made.
Sadly,Dirty Pretty Things (opens Friday, August 15, at the Little) is not a sequel to Peter Berg's wickedly underrated Very Bad Things. Instead, director Stephen Frears seems to be channeling Ken Loach as he relates this morality tale about illegal immigrants, which somehow becomes a psychological thriller with a smattering of urban legend. So, yeah --- it's pretty odd. But not odd in the good way, which would make you say, "Let's smoke a fat one and watch Holy Mountain." I'm talking odd in the other way, which makes you say, "What the hell did I just watch, and can I somehow get my money and/or time back?"
Most of Things takes place in and around a ritzy London hotel, with a focus on said hotel's low-paid staff. But it's not just a highbrow version of Maid in Manhattan, boys and girls. It's a Big Social Message because most of the employees are illegal immigrants who are forced to do all manner of awful things to fly under the radar yet still earn a buck (including --- gasp! --- prostitution). I've never been to London, but the implication in Things is that England's largest city would slow to a grinding halt without these invisible refugee scofflaws.
"We are the people you do not see," says Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), in a line that made me want to get up and leave the theater. When he isn't working as a porter at the hotel, he's moonlighting as a cabdriver and ad hoc doctor to his syphilitic fellow hacks. Okwe used to be a real doctor back in Nigeria, but here in London, he's the guy you call when the toilet in your hotel room won't flush. And Things is the kind of film where hotel toilets don't flush because they're clogged with human hearts.
Okwe also has an unusual relationship with a Turkish virgin named Senay (Amélie's Audrey Tautou), who works at the hotel and a nearby sweatshop when she isn't biting the bishops of bosses who force her to perform oral. Okwe and Senay secretly live together, but it's never really clear who they're trying to keep the secret from. But who cares when there're tickers in the plumbing?
Frears hasn't had a hit since before the first Gulf War, and Things is another mediocre misstep. If it wasn't for the strong performance from Ejiofor, and the sideshow attraction of Tautou simultaneously attempting both her first English-language role and a Turkish accent (an impressive feat, though it still made me wince --- and I have a Tautou shrine at home), Things would be just another unconventional romance about organ removal.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.