Izo

Screened at this years FanTasia Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.

Izo is this month’s offering from the preposterously prolific king of Japanese V-cinema Miike Takashi (Dead or Alive, Audition, Ichi the Killer). Miike partners again with screenwriter Shigenori Takechi (Graveyard of Honor, Agitator, Deadly Outlaw: Rekka) to produce his most metaphorical, bizarre work to date. That’s right, Miike Takashi’s most bizarre work.

Izo is a resurrected demon representing the inherent violence within Japanese society, coming back to destroy it. The film takes place in a surreal hyper-reality. Symbol after symbol of Japanese masculinity, history, religion and culture appears and is cut to shreds with devastating fury by the indestructible Izo. Probably…

The film opens in 1865 with the crucifixion and disembowelment of 28-year-old Okada Izo, a low-born samurai who fought and killed in the service of the anti-shogun rebel Hanpeita Takechi. Izo is way too badass to take that shit and his rage transforms his soul into a vengeance-fuelled devil intent on destroying the universe. He wakes up in present day Japan in an alleyway, taking possession of the body of a homeless man.

From there on Izo’s appearance grows increasingly demonic as he embarks on an abstract killing spree through time and space. Izo faces off against Samurai in present day Tokyo. Izo engages in machine gun battles with a SWAT team in a medieval village. Izo slices through vampire insurance salesmen in a cave somewhere, ethereal plane unknown. The basic story structure goes something like this: Izo is hurtled into a scene somewhere in Japanese history. Some guys appear and throw around a few lines of some vague, incomprehensible philosophy. Izo responds by mercilessly hacking them to bits. Repeat. Pepper this with recurring bits of old WW2 footage, some talking flowers, an ethereal super-council growing increasingly worried, and 60’s folk guitarist Tomokawa Kazuki who serves as a kind of wandering minstrel.

Izo is “negation itself”. He is a devil of destructive imperfection spat out by the “perfect system” that is Japan. A system he was born to destroy, in that whole birth/death, creation/destruction cycle of the universe. Something like The Matrix, but at least there we had comparatively straightforward monologues from The Architect to explain away the confusion.

In Izo a council room full of rather symbolic old Japanese guys governs the system. These include a head priest, a general, the prime minister (“Beat” Takeshi Kitano) and an androgynous god/emperor (Ryuhei Matsuda) with a snake. The lads that run the universe repeatedly send their minions out to eliminate Izo before he can slice and dice his way to the council chambers. Said opponents include Buddhist priests, WW2 soldiers, school children, yakuza, incarnations of himself, his mother, and K1 kick boxing behemoth Bob Sapp. Indestructible and ferocious, Izo dispatches his metaphoric opponents with much arterial spray.

The gore is set on low but the splatter is set on high. While the body count probably approaches the triple digits the violence isn’t as beautiful as it is quick and brutal. Izo does not fuck around. No adversary presents any kind of a challenge to Izo’s supreme toughness. No cool lines, no sweet moves. His sword never spins, only slices. To glorify the relentless killing would contradict some of the comments on violence that Miike is trying to make here. Izo is The Terminator and the soul of Japan is due for a Cyberdyne- style bitch slapping.

Izo is probably Miike’s weirdest movie. It is very different from anything Miike has done before but fits seamlessly into his body of work. Izo is Miike’s first full on art film and does not make sense on any literal level. So unless you’re into interpreting and analysing symbols for 2 hours you probably won’t enjoy it as much as Miike’s more straight forward films. But you will enjoy it.

Izo is entertaining visually and is full of all the usual Miike madness; the violence, the twisted sexuality, the triple digit body count, the “I can’t believe what I’m looking at” moments. It sure as hell isn’t boring. Miike is at the top off his game as a director and some viewers will certainly classify this film as a masterpiece. For those who would rather see some good old Tokyo gun battles, they can wait for the release of the 3 Yakuza movies Miike shot before breakfast this morning.

Official Score