Ichi the Killer (manga review)

Well, this started off as an intro to a review of Uzumaki (for the Final Girl Film Club) and then I went and realised how much I bloody love Ichi the Killer. There were a good few years when I was quite obsessed with our weeping friend Ichi. The movie itself was easy enough to track down – and I even saw the prequel and Anime DVDs - but the Manga was something of a holy grail for me. And then, whilst doing a little Uzumaki research, I went and found a bunch of Ichi books online. Thank the Jebus for free Manga websites. (I don’t normally supply naughty streaming websites and suchlike, but since translated Ichi books aren’t easily available, here: knock yaself out).

Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer is infamous amongst lovers of extreme cinema. Even the cut version (the only one available here in the UK) is pretty nasty stuff. It’s deliriously perverse and cruel, filled with as much intense, sexualised violence as one might expect from a Miike movie. But with works such as this – particularly where an auteur like Miike is involved – it’s easy to forget its inspiration. And in Ichi's case, Hideo Yamamoto's Manga deserves every bit as much credit as Miike’s seminal adaptation. Maybe even a little more credit on the nastiness front, simply because it has this:

Yes, that's a picture of exactly what you think it's a picture of.

The plot is largely the same as in the movie, although it’s obvious that Miike has excised a lot of excess baggage. The titular Ichi is an assassin for a mysterious short-ass gangster figure. He keeps razor blades in his shoes, and cries a lot. After Ichi rids the world of a rival mob boss, sadomasochistic loon Kakihara is sicced on Ichi. It takes a while to get going, but anyone who reads Manga will know that they like to drag things out a fair bit. It’s also more melodramatic than the movie version, with a lot of forlorn expressions, forelorn wanking and doleful sulking going on. And, if you’ve experienced the movie first, then you’ll probably be quite impatient waiting for Kakihara to arrive. When he shows up, things instantly improve. Ultimate masochist Kakihara is possibly my favourite movie villain of all time, and he’s just as good in comic-book form (although he looks slightly less rockstar-ish, in his conservative black suit & Hitler haircut. The glasgow smile's still there though, as are the piercings and a few extra, um, bits...)

It’s a fun little read, even if it does meander a bit much. The game of cat-and-mouse between Ichi and Kakihara is the movie and the manga’s strongest point, but eleven-odd books is taking it a bit far. It goes up to where the movie finishes, and then there’s a whole bunch of extra chapters on top of that. Miike streamlines the book, which is very much a good thing. It takes one character ten (and counting) pages to fall off a building. It takes so long for him to fall that a line of dialogue even reads “falling”.

With the movie, Miike has kept all the good stuff and got rid of much of the filler, making it more cinematic and streamlined. While Ichi throwing his shoes at a nekkid Kakihara is amusing in the books, it hardly makes for thrilling cinema. All the elements are there, but Mister Miike has amped things up by several notches and got rid of a number of pointless dialogue scenes. Still intact: every bit of gruesome violence you remember from the flick, and then some.

All in all, the Manga version of Ichi the Killer is well worth a read, especially if you're a fan of the movie. The story remains compelling and cool, whilst the characters are plenty grotesque, fun, cool and - certainly in Kakihara's case - genuinely iconic. I'm not really a fan of Manga, but Ichi the Killer is still one of my favourite comics of all time. A must read, if you can stomach all the penile mutilation and whatnot.

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