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Manga / Ichi the Killer

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"Just a little torture."

Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1) is a notably gory 10 volume manga by Hideo Yamamoto, based on his 1993 one-shot manga Ichi. The manga was serialized in Weekly Young Sunday from 1998 to 2001.

The story is set in the city of Shinjuku, specifically the red-light district Kabuki-cho, where Yakuza rule the streets. A band of hoodlums lead by an enigmatic old man referred to only as Jijii ("Old guy") hopes to challenge that by starting with Anjou, the leader of a powerful clan of Yakuza known collectively as the Anjougumi. The culprit, according to Jijii when he and his group arrive to clean up the mess, is the titular Ichi. The rest of his group are very off-put by the gore, wondering what kind of monster Ichi must be. They clean up the room and empty the safe which contained approximately 300,000,000 yen.

The next day, the members of the Anjougumi are distraught to find their leader missing. Notably, Masao Kakihara, a high-ranking member of the group and a noted extreme masochist (his several facial scars, the extensions of his mouth, and numerous piercings attest to this) dismisses all notions of Anjou having run off with the money or of him having been killed, vowing instead to find his captors and punish them severely.

Then we meet Ichi, 22 years old and an extremely meek Manchild, who is pushed around by almost everyone he meets. His only response to the torment is to apologize and smile nervously, which usually ends up just angering his bullies even more. However, with subtle manipulation and the use of Ichi's troubled past, Jijii is able to temporarily transform the unassuming boy into a monstrous killer, known for crying profusely during his murders.

The story unfolds with Kakihara ruthlessly tracking down Anjou's killers (which ends up hospitalizing a member of a fellow Yakuza gang, getting Kakihara ejected from the group) and later on, focusing mainly on Ichi himself. After encountering the hitman's handiwork time and time again, Kakihara comes to realize that Ichi might be capable of giving him the ultimate pain that he has so desired to find.

This series was later adapted into a film by Takashi Miike, which spawned a sequel in the form of another movie and a prequel in the form of an anime.

Tropes found in the manga:

  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Ichi's boot razors, which he made himself in the welding factory where he works.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Jiro and Saburo, the twin brothers who ran with Kakihara in their old gang. They resort to incredibly brutal violence at the drop of a hat, and think nothing of it.
    • Ichi when in his killing trance.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Almost completely averted; genitals are frequently depicted but never in full detail.
  • Bandit Clan: The main antagonist is the leader of a bandit clan who descend down from the nearby caverns to bully around the villagers who run the local Inn.
  • Berserker Tears: Most of the time when Ichi is in his killing trance, he's bawling like a baby since the trance is tied into his memories of being bullied as a kid.
  • Book Ends: The story begins and ends with Ichi wailing as he's about to beat the hell out of his opponent, both gangsters in both instances.
  • Breast Attack: Several, played for squick. One woman gets her nipples sliced off, and a prostitute is punched in the breast hard enough to crush it.
  • Butt-Monkey: Fujiwara, the most incompetent member of Kakihara's gang, who gets punishments like ass-raping dead rivals' corpses. Fujiwara is also the only one to abandon the gang, leaving only Kakihara, Saburo and Kaneko behind. This also saves his life.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: More evident in the manga:
    • Ichi doesn't have a lot of upper body strength, but his kills are so effective because his legs are really strong (since Prisons Are Gymnasiums), so much so that, after a miserable showing with a punching game in an arcade, he returns to the arcade after hours and destroys the machine with one kick.
    • Jiro is strong enough to be able to dismember people with his bare hands.
  • Clark Kent Outfit/Hidden Badass: Under that tracksuit? Jijii is ripped.
  • Coming of Age Story: A very belated one for Ichi. He has very little understanding of the concept of rape, is very unassertive, and has to be faced with multiple "truths" about himself to grow. By the end of the story, he's at least matured enough to start his own life in Shinjuku and has become a more sociable and healthier man, but he had to get away from all the killing to do so.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    • Kakihara likes to dole these out to his mooks, in the form of body piercings in...sensitive areas. He's also fond of sticking needles through people's palms.
    • Kakihara inflicts one on himself by cutting off the end of his tongue, removing his ability to taste sweetness.
  • Combat Sadomasochist: Kakihara may be the definitive example. Injuries exhilarate him. Subverted at the end. Kakihara gets really messed up during his fight with Ichi, to the point where he can no longer ignore his body's danger signals and begins experiencing pain like a normal person does.
  • Covers Always Lie: Some covers (including the live-action film one) make it look like Kakihara is the eponymous Ichi.
  • Cowboy Cop: Jijii, a former policeman who has a vendetta against the yakuza. He used to be Ichi's probation officer.
  • Creepy Twins: Jiro and Saburo. Everything about them is slightly off-putting.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jijii vs. Takayama and Ichi vs. Kakihara.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ichi was cruelly bullied as a child; Jijii knows this and uses it to psychologically manipulate Ichi.
  • Diagonal Cut: Ichi's standard method of killing.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Two of them. One is befriended by Ichi who later kills her along with her pimp. The second is raped and tortured to death by Jiro and Saburo during the search for Ichi.
  • Disney Villain Death: Kakihara's final fate, caused by a bird coming along and crapping on his hand. No, seriously.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Ichi gets a beating and kicking for the crime of driving past Kakihara with his bicycle. Kaneko feels sorry for him afterwards.
  • Fan Disservice: It's pretty much a guarantee that if someone's naked, be it male or female, they're either doing something really twisted or having something horrific done to them. Case in point: the one time nipples are shown on camera in the film, it's when they're getting cut off.
  • Gambit Roulette: Jijii's ability to manipulate people borders on omniscience.
  • Gayngster: Kakihara appears to be this for Boss Anjo, but he explains that he's rather just In Love with Your Carnage (the punishments Anjo gave him).
  • Gorn: A shining example of this trope, particularly in Takashi Miike's hands.
  • Groin Attack: Several; also, see Cool and Unusual Punishment above. Kakihara loves genital torture; he even shows pictures of all the ways to split a penis to the victim, before doing these things to him. Jiro and Saburo are more straightforward; one punches a man in the groin hard enough to crush his genitals, then the other stabs him in the groin, which actually kills him.
  • Here We Go Again!: The final panel of the manga implies that despite the progress he's made, Ichi's violent rages are about to return with a vengeance.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Sometimes justified, sometimes not so much.
  • Impaled Palm: Kakihara uses his needles for this a few times, including to Jiro and Saburo at the same time through their clasped hands to show his anger at them for killing someone he wanted kept alive.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Kakihara uses his supply of needles to turn one of Jijii's henchmen into a human pincushion.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Kakihara was this way for his boss, and then gets this way with Ichi. His enthusiasm implodes when he realizes that the mysterious monster Ichi is actually the whimpering loser who got his ass kicked by Kakihara once.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Ichi cuts his palm with a knife and masturbates to the sight of his favorite prostitute being beaten and raped by her husband.
  • Mob War
  • Morton's Fork: Those poor prostitutes who had to deal with Jiro and Saburo. When Saburo asks one of them who she preferred in bed, she picked Jiro; Saburo responds by yanking her hair out and burning it on a grill. Naturally, the other prostitute picks Saburo when asked again... which causes Jiro to flip out and yank her hair out too.
  • Neck Snap: Done to Takayama by Jijii and to Jiro by Ichi.
  • Orgasmic Combat:
    • Ichi, who literally gets a hard-on from beating people.
    • Kakihara as well, being equal parts sadist and masochist.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Ichi has many of these moments, such as giving his money to Shiela so she can have her nose fixed, and teaching two bullied kids (Norio and Takeshi) how to fight back against their tormentors.
    • Karen has a literal Pet the Dog moment, when she gets furious at the Vietnamese drug dealer for kicking a dog.
  • Professional Killer: Kaneko, a low-level hitman.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: In all seriousness, all of the main killers are in some way mentally stunted and immature while being wildly violent. Ichi is just the most blatant version since he ties his physical prowess to his boyhood trauma and is otherwise submissive, but Jiro, Saburo, and Kakihara aren't shining examples of maturity either.
  • Rape as Drama: Happens with any woman Jiro and Saburo encounter.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The above-mentioned brothers. They even boast about having raped hundreds.
  • Sarcastic Confession: In the epilogue, Jijii reveals he's been talking to a teleworker company, giving off all the details of his business in Kabuki-cho like it was nobody's business. The workers chalk it up to him being an imaginative old man and think he's just making it all up.
  • Scars are Forever: Kakihara's face and piercings.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Kakihara is so numb to pain that even in his final moments, when that's no longer the case, he enjoys the sensation.
  • Torture Porn
  • Twin Telepathy: Ichi's presence is announced by Saburo suddenly feeling that Jiro has died. He recognizes the feeling from when his other brother died, and responds with a reaction of "I was hoping to kill him myself sometime."
  • The Unsmile:
    • Ichi tends to do this when he's trying to look harmless. The expression is rather goofy-looking.
    • When Jijii smiles, his lips don't open right. Combined with his big wide eyes, the effect is more like a chimp baring its teeth and makes him look very creepy and inhuman.
  • Yakuza:
    • Kakihara and all his associates.
    • Jijii's gang are thugs who've been excommunicated from yakuza clans.

Tropes found in the movie:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Movie!Kakihara is much more handsome and charming than his manga self. Word of God is that this was so he could be more appealing to the audience and steal the show.
  • Anachronic Order: The first scene takes place roughly halfway through the film.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: In the film, Karen's dialogue switches between Japanese, Cantonese, and English.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ichi forms an Intergenerational Friendship with Takeshi after defending him from some bullies, but when Ichi murders his father Kaneko during the climax, Takeshi understandably turns the affection into pure hatred.
  • Death by Adaptation: The final scene shows Jijii's hanged corpse from a tree, in the manga, he's alive and training Takeshi to be his next killing machine. Similarly, Takeshi gets beheaded by Ichi in the film, but is Jijii's current killing machine project in the epilogue of the manga; however, the final scene does have someone that looks like an older Takeshi appear, and considering Kakihara hallucinated Ichi's attack on him, it's possible that nothing actually happened to Takeshi.
  • Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: Kakihara's ring tone sounds like the movie's track "Space on Space".
  • Driven to Suicide: Kakihara ultimately jumps to his death, but he hallucinated that Ichi had impaled his skull and kicked him off the building instead.
  • Downer Ending: After all the build-up of meeting Ichi and finally receiving the final and greatest pain of his life, Kakihara is utterly disappointed by Ichi collapsing in tears while being kicked by a vindictive Takeshi and ends up throwing himself to his death. Even Jiji is shown hanging himself despite having successfully destroyed Kakihara and his empire.
  • Gainax Ending: Ichi is last seen in tears being kicked by Takeshi, then he's out of the picture, and in the ending we see what appears to be a grown-up Takeshi. If it is, it makes one wonder what kind of person he has become after the traumatic stuff he witnessed as a child.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: In lieu of seeing Ichi behead Takeshi, we are treated to a hyper-explicit shot of Kakihara using skewers to perforate his own eardrums and pierce his cochnea. Possibly enforced due to the Double Standard of violence against children, or because Kakihara is just imagining that Ichi did it before committing suicide.
  • Imagine Spot: The scene of Kakihara's death is revealed to be wishful thinking on the part of Kakihara as he throws himself off the roof when Ichi is unable to fight him.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: Jiji, the little old chessmaster, wears baggy clothing throughout the film. At the very end, he strips to his underwear to reveal a ridiculously muscled body.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some subplots had to be cut out of the movie.
  • Serious Business: "Put some feeling into it. Giving pain is a serious business."
  • Sitting on the Roof: We see Ichi and later Jijii sitting on the rooftop.
  • The Stoic: Jijii is rather expressionless in the movie. Kakihara is also less lively than his more unhinged and emotive manga counterpart, with the idea of making him a bored and desensitized sadomasochist in dire need of feeling stronger pains.

Alternative Title(s): Ichi The Killer