REVIEW: “Ichi”

Posted: August 12, 2010 by Zee in Review

So it’s been a long time. Feck off, it’s my blog and I can drop in as I please!

Ahem.

Now, everyone who knows me knows I love a good strong female action hero. (Except for The Bride. Not only do I dislike Tarentino with a passion, but Uma Thurman looks like an ostrich with bad hair– an image I could not get out of mind during both movies.) Kick-ass girls tend to show up more in foreign productions (Run Lola Run, La Femme Nikita, the work of Luc Besson) than American and the film I am reviewing today is no exception: Ichi, directed by Fumihiko Sori.

Ichi (not to be confused with the über-violent cult classic Ichi the Killer) is a non-official spinoff to the famed Zatoichi series of films and television. Ichi is implied to be Zatoichi’s daughter and certainly her M.O. (the blind wandering swordswoman) fits the bill. Instead of being a wandering blind masseur (a profession that probably sounded less creepy in feudal Japan than now), Ichi is a wandering goza singer who has been kicked out of her house for having “an affair with a man” (although the truth is much more depressing). Ichi has wandered the Japanese countryside looking for her father (or at least, the man she believes is her father), following any rumor of the appearance of a blind swordsman. While Ichi was trained as a songstress, her true talent lies in her swordmanship and she has no hesitation in whipping out her katana-cane whenever she feels threatened. But will a young sensei break through the walls of her heart and make her fall in love and wish to be alive again?

We can’t tell.

Here’s the thing– Ichi is perhaps the most Emo samurai you’d ever meet. There is something of a tradition in Asian cinema for the hero/ine to be the silent type, but Ichi takes that from “silent” to “catatonic”. Now, I’m not actually saying that the actress, Haruka Ayase, is bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. She creates a character you feel empathy towards despite being hit with a double-whammy, acting-wise: her character is both emotionally dead and blind. Playing a blind character– especially one blind from birth, as Ichi is– is insanely difficult. You never realize how much emotion and reaction is read in the eyes. Ichi never makes eye contact, never engages her audience with her eyes, never does anything with them except stare blankly forward. When you think about it, why would she? Those with sight are conditioned to make eye contact or at least look at the person speaking to us, but the blind have no reason to do so.

Ichi, however, takes this disconnection to the extreme. I’m not sure if she utters 100 words in the movie. I’d say she’s the type of character who does not act but react– except she doesn’t really do that either. There are a few moments (mostly in flashack) where she shows emotion, but for the most part she’s just kinda there. I understand the emotionally-damaged aspect of her personality, but half the time I wanted to take her pulse.

Haruka Ayase is damn pretty, though.

Damnit, I think I might be gay now.

Takao Ôsawa, who plays the hapless sensei/love interest/comic relief Tomo Fujihira is pretty ‘effing hot himself, despite his mid-’60s bouffant/ponytail combo. His character is a little…well, not “poorly thought out”, but definately contradictory. This might have been due to the dubbing (unlike some individuals I know coughcoughVickicough I don’t mind watching dubbed films. I’m a very visual person and hate having to dart my eyes from subtitle to scene– especially considering how many Bollywood movies I watch. Have you tried to watch a subbed Hindi flick? It’s like watching Subliminal Message: The Movie). He shows up as Comic Relief, then Tortured Soul, then Love Interest, then Comic Relief-Love Interest, then Tortured Soul-Comic Relief…his characterization jumped so many times that all I could think of was that the director, producers and writers were making his character up as they went along. In addition, his tragic backstory (as portrayed in Vaseline-smeared glory, naturally) is so comically set up that I seriously thought that it was supposed to be a parody. I mean, it’s tragic, but taken one step further, it would be an outtake from Airplane!.

...well, maybe not quite yet.

Perhaps the best– and by best I mean absolute worst– aspect of this film is the lead villain, the warlord Banki.

Banki.

Banki.

Banki.

Sorry, his name is just so enjoyable to say. Banki banki banki! It’s like something you’d bounce your baby to! Banki!

I feel..uh...threatened?

Anyway. There are a few problems with Banki (Banki!), the main one being that he has absolutely zero character development and thus no motivation. Y’know those movies (usually filmed in the late ’80s) where the bad guy is bad simply because he’s well, bad? That’s Banki (Banki!) Despite much of the movie being set up as a “warrior avenges her father” flick, Banki (Banki!) has basically nothing to do with Ichi or her family. It isn’t even estabished that he even met Ichi’s father. The entire conflict between Ichi and Banki (Banki!) boils down to her asking if he’d seen her father, and him…uh, being a Generic Bad Guy™.

In addition…oh, man. Listen, while I’m not an expert on Japanese history, I did study costume design for several years and one of my final projects in high school was sewing a traditionally exact kimono and tabi (I still own the geta. They’re about the most comfortable shoes I have.) I know that 15th century warlords dressed flamboyantly, but dear Lord, Banki looks like he’s running late to a Pride parade.

I think your katana is FAAAAABULOOOOUSSS!

Aside from my bitching, I did enjoy Ichi. It’s got a good amount of gore, great cinematography and the overall plot was pretty good. This is, without a doubt, one of the prettiest damn movies I’ve seen in a long time. The colors are lush, the landscapes amazing, and the music (by Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, one of my favorites) is haunting and totally appropriate. Yeah, some of it makes no sense at all and some of the dubbing was atrocious, even if I didn’t know what they were really saying (“I can’t see what I cut off because I’m blind.” is Ichi’s first words– spoken to herself. THANK YOU, Miss Exposition!). But if you want to turn your brain off for a bit and watch a beautiful woman kick some serious ass, Ichi fits the bill perfectly.

Banki.

(Bonus! Watch it here:  http://www.hulu.com/ichi )

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Comments
  1. Gabby Traverso says:

    Thanks for this review, I’m definitely interested in watching this now. I also think that you are totally right about kick-ass girls tending to show up more on foreign productions. I just saw “Viva Riva!”, a foreign action/gangster movie from the Congo. It’s a low budget indie film, yet so good you would hardly guess. It definitely keeps you captivated with suspense from the hard-struck reality these people live while trying to get to the top. Like any gangster movie, possibly my favorite genre, it shows the repercussions people must go through when they selfishly do everything and anything they can for more money and power. It also has a peculiar way at depicting strength in its female characters. Its main female character Nora, is beautiful and assertive. Her sexuality is her power key that lands her the position of a big time gagster’s girlfriend. Although to some this may be a demeaning role to assume, in the brutal reality of Congolese turmoil, its definitely a more powerful position than most women could expect. When she ends up fighting with her man she has no fear to aggressively stand up for herself and give him a piece of her mind. Another important female character, a lesbian military officer who has been left with no choice but to help out gangsters she doesn’t like, shows her strength as well. She isn’t easily persuaded to do something she doesn’t want to do, even when faced with death or the death of her sister. In the end she has no trouble putting up a good physical fight with a male gangster to try and save her own life and that of her friend. Overall I think the film is great, showing the realistic violence people from the other side of the world have to live with. Although some criticize it for perhaps being too violent but the National says that “just like it was in South Africa, people are living each day as if it’s their last, so you have these extremes in the Congo, where there’s been war as long as people can remember.” Here is the article I pulled the quote from: http://www.thenational.ae/events/categories/film/violence-and-reality-bring-the-african-film-viva-riva-rave-reviews

    • V_L says:

      Thanks for your own recommendations re: “Viva Riva!”. I’d really like to see that. I’m not so much one for gangster flicks (unless they’re British– the Brits have much cooler gangters than we do) but I really enjoy indie movies that aren’t INDIE movies (aka, privileged 20-something white kids sitting around mumbling).
      I’m no die-hard feminist but I do wonder why, when the USA is supposedly the most advanced in womens rights, foreign movies have more kick-ass heroines than we do. Aside from Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor (who, to their immense credit, never sacrificed their femininity and motherhood to be action heroes), we really don’t have action heroines.

      Susana

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