Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100 minutes
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Generally I try to stay as professional and neutral as possible when writing a review, but a week after seeing it, I still don’t know where to start on the new Miike Takashi movie, “Izo”. If I give just a brief description of the plot you still won’t have any idea what this film is like, and if I try to get into any kind of detail we could be here for a few days as I attempt to untangle the insane knot of metaphor, symbolism, satire, criticism and history Takashi has unleashed on his audience.
For the short answer, “Izo” concerns a low born samurai, Okada Izo, who was executed in 1865 while in the service of anti-shogun rebel Hanpeita Takeuchi. Following his ritual disembowelment while up on a cross (get it? do ya get it?), Izo embarks on a journey through time and space, hacking and slashing everyone in his path including future reincarnations of himself and characters who may or may not be symbolic representations of everything from religion to Japanese commercialism. His eventual destination is some sort of super government that hangs out in a giant mansion or something, again populated by symbolic characters, including “Beat” Takeshi as the Prime Minister. The only people immune to Izo’s wrath are the sexually ambiguous god emperor (a typecast Ryuhei Matsuda) and Izo’s mother (kinda, long story) / earth mother / embodiment of Shinto (Kaori Momoi).
All of the usual Miike trappings are here: excessive blood loss, spray, splatter and dismemberment; a phallic handled sword pulled from a woman’s vagina; the birthing of full grown men etc., etc. But Miike also seems to be taking a poke at himself, inserting such gratuitousness into what is essentially an art film. Recalling the work of experimental director Koji Wakamatsu, Miike also includes stock footage montages of World War II footage, sex ed. loops and even Tokyo Disneyland. And, as if that didn’t have you scratching your head we also have Kazuki Tomokawa, a radical folk singer from the ‘60’s (something like a Japanese Tom Waits) popping up periodically to comment in song.
I wondered while watching “Izo” if an audience with a good background in Japanese culture and history would be better able to appreciate Miike’s work here, but everything is so brain bendingly over the top that I kinda doubt it. At times he seems to be taking on samurai culture for building up to WW2, sometimes he’s taking on the appropriation of samurai culture both in Western media and in the yakuza, and other times it seems to be an almost Buddhist discussion on being and nothingness as Izo is also representative of “negation itself”. There are nods to Japanese history and Japanese film history, much like the more coherent “Millennium Actress” and a sense of trying to break down assumptions of film in general and his own films specifically.
Whatever the case, “Izo” is both nothing like anything that Miike has done, and in a lot of ways the film that his career has been building up to. There are people who will praise this as a masterpiece. I’m frankly still trying to figure out what the hell happened. But maybe that’s Miike’s point. Bastard.
Posted on October 12, 2004 in Reviews by Mariko McDonald
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