Even God is pointless and might as well hang: Deciphering the ending of Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer

February 21, 2012

I recently had the chance to see Takashi Miike’s masterpiece, Ichi the Killer. It remains, to my mind, one of the defining horror/gore films of our time. Its comic book-like feel belies a supremely nihilist/essentially humanist philosophy. It might be hard to get to it and it’s totally understandable if you don’t care to find out. After all, by the time you get to the ending, you’ve already waded through buckets of blood, truly depraved torture, rape and may have had to take advantage of the barf bags that Miike was so kind as to provide during screenings of the movie.

There is not a single black and white character in the movie. In fact, the only sympathetic character, the kind cop-turned-Yakuza bodyguard Taneko, driven mad by his powerlessness in the grand scheme of things, kicks to death an already raped woman. Even his son, Takeshi, the bullied boy, comes face to face with his dark side, kicking his father’s killer, the eponymous Ichi, who is lying helpless on the floor, crying his eyes out, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the leg. All of this happens in the shadow of the battle between the 100% masochist, Kakihara, and the 100% sadist, Ichi. Both characters are larger than life, perfectly suited for their position in society. There is, however, a greater power at work, the Chinese pimp, Jijii, who is manipulating them both and driving them towards the ultimate showdown.

The ending is, I’m informed, unsatisfactory. Kakihara, driven to despair by his inability to be killed, skewers his brain through both ears, imagines that the helpless Ichi is able to kill him, and falls to his death, exclaiming “Wow, this is amazing!” as he plummets. Somehow, this does not satisfy Jiijii, who leaves, disgusted, ending the movie. The denouement consists of two scenes: a blue shot of Kakihara, alone, his jaw dropped to reveal his pathos, and finally, a shot of Jiijii, who seems to have hung himself in an elementary school playground, while a Takeshi/Ichi figure walks away.

What meaning are we to derive from this? What was the point?

To answer this, you must have paid close attention. Recall the scene where Jiijii calls Kakihara, goading him to his final battle. This is what he says:

Do you think that what you’re doing will make everything inevitable? No matter how hard you try, it’ll all be in vain, you asshole. People like you who can only watch know absolutely nothing. I’m pulling the strings. Even yours. I’m controlling everything. Don’t you feel it’s all running a bit too smoothly, you creep? Your fate is without a shred of meaning. You’ll be killed senselessly by Ichi. No more, no less, asshole.

This phone call is the key to understanding Takashi Miike’s point. Without it, the movie is without purpose, made worthwhile only by Miike’s amazing direction, frenetic pace and stylized violence. If you can only watch, you will know absolutely nothing. If you observe, you will see a few things.

You see, Jijii is a stand-in for God/the director (you can, if you choose, read the rest of this post as a critique of the director’s role vis-a-vis characters and choice/authorial intent). Kakihara is the epitome of evil, Satan if you will. Ichi is simply a crusader, an instrument of God’s will, the #1 (Ichi means #1 and is the symbol on the back of his suit) instrument if you please. We are taught that God is all-powerful, omniscient, omnipotent. This is demonstrated by Jijii’s ability to hypnotize Ichi and others into doing his will. He can replace memories. He can change shape, revealing himself to be the muscular titan instead of the weakling. The entire movie is Jijii’s game. Kakihara on the other hand is a force of nature. He terrorizes for the sheer hell of it. He castrates, mutilates, tortures, scalds, all for the purpose of feeling something, anything at all. He is the ultimate big bad.

You see, Jijii, in that phone call, reveals that he believes evil is devoid of meaning. He believes that because he is pulling the strings and knows exactly what path each character will take, all life is pointless, save his. He is an active God. He is a God that grants man the illusion of free will but manipulates to get him to do what he wants (see: Ichi). Is such a God truly good? Is he worth serving? After all, Ichi is only tasked with killing evildoers. He doesn’t kill or harm any innocents. In fact, he goes out of his way to protect Takeshi from bullies. Is our purpose only to serve such a selfish God? To be fair, is the Abrahamic God any different from Jijii? After all, all is already known. It happens in his name, right?

Ichi is a 100% sadist ie. his pleasure is only in the inflicting of pain, unlike Kakihara whose only pleasure in in the receiving of it. He is a righteous killer, who in his mind, is only doing good. Torquemada would have said the same thing about himelf. Throughout the movie, Ichi is never physically hurt in any serious way. Only when he is shot in the leg by Kaneko does Ichi feel pain. Faced with pain, Ichi breaks down and becomes useless. Thus far, he has believed in Jijii, that he is an instrument of his will and invulnerable. He is unable to give Kakihara the climactic showdown he craves. Jijii’s best laid plan, his Messiah killing the Devil himself, fails, even though the Devil does die, but not in the way he would like.

What does that mean?

It is Jijii whose life has no meaning. He realizes that despite all his power he really isn’t able to get what he wants. Kakihara, despite only hallucinating the means to his end, does get what he wants, proving that Jijii is a useless God. His chosen fails him. Humans have limitations, yes, like Ichi, but they’re also capable of breaking from the plot. Ichi’s breakdown, where he is unable to do anything but weep inconsolably as he realizes his vulnerability, is an epiphany for such a powerful character. Kakihara’s self-deception might condemn him to occupy his solitary Hell, unable to be physically tormented as he desires, but he is free of the cosmic game. Where does that leave Jiijii? He might as well hang, which he does.

Faced with man’s animal nature and willingness to deceive, God serves no purpose.


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