Ouch I Hurt.

*A world of disgust awaits you in this week’s column! A look at how the insecurity and negativity that sometimes pops up in the US comics is also present in other nations, and what it all might mean! Have a good time reading it!

*Such a splitting headache today. The problem is that I got way too much sleep last night, because I only ever get headaches when I sleep to the point of indulgence. Gah.

I did check out that Ichi the Killer dvd (the OMG TOTALLY UNCUT edition) and the experience largely served to remind me not to pay any attention when a large number of critics and the like start babbling about extreme violence in film; most of them, while very smart, simply don’t have much of a grounding in exploitation or ultraviolent or transgressive cinema, so their perceptions are naturally going to be out of whack with, say, mine. That’s certainly the only explanation for the furor that still occasionally trails the 2001 Ichi, a film that mostly traffics in Rikki-Oh-style gore, adopting the loudest form of manga bloodshed as the model for its make-up effects. In addition, quite a lot of the nastiness takes place off-screen (something The Story of Ricky would never do!), and there’s long stretches of character interaction and walking around streets and stuff.

Which is precisely the big big big problem with Ichi the Killer: there’s no way in hell this material justifies a two hour and nine minute runtime. The second half of the film in particular grinds to a crawl as director Takashi Miike opts to explore the pasts and motivations of his characters, pursuits that frankly aren’t necessary to the progression of the film. For those who aren’t familiar, Ichi the Killer (based on manga by Hideo Yamamoto) is basically a head-on collision between the ever-popular Yakuza genre of organized crime fiction and a costumed super-vigilante story. The titular Ichi falls into the latter category, running around in a black costume with blades in his heels (didn’t The Guyver have blades there too?), driven on a quest for vengeance against all bullies and criminals. He even runs into a little kid who looks up to him, and has a mysterious and wise mentor/benefactor, played in a stroke of casting genius by Shinya Tsukamoto, writer/director/star of Tetsuo the Iron Man among other classics (I assure you, this is the low-budget Japanese trash cinema equivalent of Sergei Eisenstein casting Vsevolod Pudovkin in Ivan the Terrible). Unfortunately, Ichi is also a seething mass of sexual confusion, displaced rage, and social ineptitude. And when he uses his amazing powers, he always kills.

This is all contrasted with his flamboyant would-be nemesis, Yakuza masochist extraordinaire Kakihara, who believes that Ichi might be able to give him the ultimate pain he secretly craves. Kakihara also likes to stab people with needles and scald them with oil and suspend them from hooks, all of this accomplished through some passable CG and goopy make-up effects. I wonder if Miike was trying to say something through the differences between Ichi’s colorful arteral spray brand of killing, and Kakihara’s more grounded (and realistically-rendered) tortures? Certainly he strives to make points about the cyclical nature of violence (even ‘good’ violence, superhero violence) and the vagueness of vengeance (I really enjoyed how Tsukamoto’s justifications for sending Ichi out into battle gradually change as the movie goes on). It’s nothing that regular readers of superhero comics since the mid-’80s haven’t heard before, but it’s pretty well put. I’d go so far as to say that a really smashing film (of between 90 and 100 minutes in length) is hidden somewhere in this material, but it’s not my job to find it.

Miike and mangaka Yamamoto’s audio commentary is neat though, even if both men speak very slowly and Yamamoto is constantly breathing sharply into the microphone, which is a tad creepy.

*Ok. That’s all I can take for today. And I’m supposed to go out and see Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm tonight, which I’ve heard will only intensify my headache. Ah well…