Takashi Miike's infamous 2001 film "Ichi The Killer" was a gutsy film to say the least. An unabashedly misogynistic, ultra violent, and incredibly dark comic spoof of a very warped hero (a loose term) and the over-the-top villains he encountered. Interestingly, the most memorable character was not the titular, Ichi (Nao Omori), but instead the sadomasochistic Yakuza enforcer, Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano). It was a standout part that had no right being in such a trashy film. Shortly after an anime prequel came and in 2003, a third film in the "Ichi" mythos, Masato Tanno's "1-Ichi." Sadly, but understandably missing is Kakihara and Miike's incredible visual eye; in their place a very low-budget affair that wisely brings back Omori in his infamous role as well as a solid supporting cast.
"1-Ichi" (seemingly retitled "Ichi 1: Origin" for this release) had a lot working against it, most apparent, is the ultra low budget look of the film. Seemingly filmed with low-grade cameras and little to no professional lighting, the film fails to lack the professional look of many top-tier fan films, let alone a feature presentation. However, Tanno, who studied under Miike as an Assistant Director (including work on "Ichi the Killer") works well within his limitations, showing no fear in using some stylistic cuts and filter effects at time to remind viewers of the series' insane roots.
The story is incredibly lean and mean, only dragging in the final act. Sakichi Sato, writer of the original film and anime prequel, lends his pen and paper here, fleshing out the origins of Ichi (or Satoichi, his full name) only alluded to in Miike's film. Once again, Ichi is relegated to more of a supporting role in his own film, but that makes his standout scenes all the more memorable. Sato builds the first two acts around local tough guy, Mr. Dai (Teah), who has the reputation for being the most feared fighter. Unflinching in his penchant for violence, it's all the more shocking when he becomes rattled by Ichi's goofy smiles, which he assumes is a form of mockery. Through a strange turn of events, including the introduction of Onizame (Koji Chihara), a character more vile than Kakihara himself, Ichi is unwittingly sent down a path to realize his true potential as a very disturbed fighter.
"1-Ichi" is purely a film for fans of "Ichi the Killer." As a standalone film, one could easily follow the plot, but to an outsider it's a pointless endeavor. Sato pokes fun at this notion through recurring joke regarding on of Dai's friend's habit of renting only the third movie of a trilogy. Where the film does falter is Tanno's stark realism when it comes to physical and sexual violence. When the film takes a very dark turn and the end of the second act, the frankness feels horribly out of place. "Ichi the Killer" was a very dark parody, but even Miike showed restraint in some areas that Tanno doesn't. To top things off, overdone sound effects give the impression that Tanno was trying to make some sort of ham-fisted comic statement.
Ultimately, "1-Ichi" is a marginally above-average film. Omori really shines here, building on his character and making some really strange things work. Teah, is a welcome addition as Mr. Dai, who is allowed some decent character development as the film unfolds. For a debut outing as director, Tanno deserves big points for effort. In the hands of a less confident director, the low budget would completely derail the enjoyment of the film, but fortunately, despite "1-Ichi" being a huge step down from "Ichi the Killer" the sleazy legacy of the series is done justice.
As Tokyopop only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the video quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
As Tokyopop only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the audio quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version. I will note that the film is presented in its original language (Japanese) and featured English Subtitles.
The lone extra is a 15-minute conversation between director Masato Tanno and Takashi Miike. It's not filled with revelations but does serve as a nice example of two artists discussing their craft.
A film solely for fans of Miike's film, "1-Ichi" is a solid example of low-budget not winding up as a kiss of death. Sakichi Sato's script keeps things mostly moving smoothly and the cast, Omori and Teah in particular give performances well above the expectations for a straight to video outing. However, if you don't know who Ichi is, you can probably pass. Rent It.