I just watched the movie Ichi the Killer tonight with some of my ZUCC co-workers. Carl and Alf have been itching to get me to watch that movie ever since Carl borrowed my DVD collection while I was in Japan this past August. I told them I hadn’t seen Ichi the Killer, and they misremembered my mention of the movie as a recommendation. Anyway, they watched it and were psychologically scarred, so they wanted to return the favor.

The movie was very disturbing. Ultra violent, and just plain sick, sick, sick. I really don’t see the point in making a movie like that. The director, Miike Takashi (三池崇史), is evidently pretty famous for the movie Audition. I haven’t seen it, but I don’t plan to.

Perhaps the only semi-worthwhile part of my movie-watching experience was a reflection I had about Japanese and Chinese relations. Anyone who has studied the rape of Nanking (Nanjing) knows that some sick, sick atrocities were committed on Chinese civilians. All kinds of people have tried to explain the actions of the Japanese soldiers — their dehumanizing of their enemy and their blind obedience to their superiors.

When Chinese people say they hate the Japanese, I try to suggest to them that what happened during the war was committed by people in a different time, who were products of their particular circumstances. I don’t mean to excuse what those people did, but the youth of today’s Japan didn’t do those things. But the Chinese often hold onto a “you don’t understand the Japanese. They’re clever. They’re twisted. You just don’t understand” mentality.

Movies like Ichi the Killer lend credence to those kinds of opinions. At least the “twisted” part. Miike was born in post-war Japan.

I’d like to see more GTO, Spirited Away, and Kikujiro. I’m going to stay away from Miike’s films. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

(Oh yeah — also, Carl and Alf are mean.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Over dinner at some banquet, one of the Chinese grad students I work with happily related how, if you asked, many Chinese would call the Japanese “beasts and dogs.”

  2. You shouldn’t let most mainland Chinese people’s hysterical and irrational attitude towards the Japanese rub off on you. Yes, Miike has directed some sick movies (not all of which are as bad as Ichii the Killer), but it’s a bit much to use one director’s movies to categorize an entire culture. I don’t think you need me to tell you that, especially considering you know a bit more about Japan than me.

    Here in Taiwan, they love Japanese stuff. The hot pot that they eat out here is Japanese (shabu shabu), J-Pop is on MTV and Channel V all of the time, and the hip area of Taipei has all sorts of Japanese fashion.

    My opinion is that a culture that has produced Akira Kurosawa and Haruki Murakami can’t be all bad.

  3. If there is one lesson i learned from “Audition” it is that you cannot trust anyone…especially if “anyone” is a mysterious girl you hand pick, despite obvious signs she is a psycho, to be your lover for all eternity. I even made suspicious glances over at my girlfriend while watching this film, just to make sure i hadnt cashed a check my livelyhood was not willing to cash. Im still suspect….

  4. Wayne,

    My intent was not to use one director’s movies to categorize an entire culture. I was merely observing that there’s a certain extreme breed of perversity that seems to be distinctly Japanese. Maybe I’m overlooking similar elements of American culture, but the equivalents don’t come readily to mind.

    P.S. Murakami is one of my favorite authors. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World rules!

  5. what’s GTO stand for?

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: December 7, 2003 at 4:04 pm

    Hmm, I haven’t seen Ichi the Killer, and I probably won’t. Nothing’s more banal than a director whose major goal is try to shock people–one of the reasons why I despise David Lynch. The most disturbing film I’ve personally seen is the French movie Irreversible. A lot of people have called it pornographic and egregiously violent, but IT’S supposed to be (it’s about the events before, during, and after a rape). I can’t say it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a good film I’d recommend.

    While it’s silly to categorize a whole culture based on one director’s work, I think movies do show a lot about a culture. For example, I just watched The Last Samurai, and in it, you can see how incredibly patronizing some American artists are in depicting non-Western cultures and peoples; this almost subconscious condescension is, of course, a major component of the liberal American mindset. It runs in A LOT of American movies: Dances with Wolves, The Green Mile, Gandhi, Windtalkers, even cartoons like Pocahontas. So you can learn a lot about race problems in America by watching these films–and I don’t mean by believing in what the filmmakers believed, but rather by seeing how incredibly WRONG their worldviews are! I don’t care how many Oscars it has won, but Dances With Wolves is a PIECE OF SHIT. (And whatever its faults, Kill Bill doesn’t have an ounce of this liberal condescension; it sees the Japanese as being Japanese, nothing better or worse. This certainly isn’t the case with The Last Samurai.)

    Chinese movies are the same. I also recently saw “Comrades, Almost a Love Story.” Again, a pretty good movie until the characters get to America, and once again, the Chinese filmmakers have made Americans into crass, one-dimensional assholes. Again, just about every single Chinese movie that has Americans in it shows Americans as being rude or stupid or racist–or all three. And this is bullshit. By watching these films, any guy can see that there is something in many Chinese that just wants to demonize Americans. I suspect it’s the deep-seeded insecurity that runs in all non-American countries towards America, only in Chinese cinema, it’s especially pronounced. I might go as far as to say I’ve NEVER seen a Chinese movie–WRITTEN and directed by Chinese–about the non-Chinese world that’s any good.

    So behind every one there’s a message, both intentional AND unintentional. And that’s why I love film!

  7. Hey..people

    I just want to respond to what Wayne said about the Japanese culture in Taiwan. I am now also living and working in Taiwan, but I am from Hong Kong. I also don’t understand why Taiwanese here are so much into Japanese culture. Taiwan was also under Japanese rule for 50 years and so….Taiwanese should understand the history well enough, so the same how Chinese in China can forget the past even it was history!!!! Japanese are clever to modify and transform stuff in their own way that I respect them a lot too………..BUT history is history, we shouldn’t forget that!!!!!

  8. Yeah, Japan was Taiwan’s colonial ruler for 50 years, but they did a pretty good job of running things around here. They built all sorts of schools and public works. While there were certain aspects of life that were still harsh for the Taiwanese (dicrimination in the workplace, being taught Japanese instead of Taiwanese in the schools), as a whole people’s lives got a whole lot better under Japanese rule. When the Kuomintang government tried to extablish control after WWII, they basically fucked everything over. The sewers got all clogged up, the roads fell apart, and people who tried to open businesses that competed with the government-run monopolies were arrested. And then martial law came in ’49, and pretty soon everyone was nostalgic for the good old days under Japanese rule.

  9. well…well…then more or less the same as us, we still remember our old days under British…Chinese are strange, have to be under others and learn better………!!!

  10. and you also need to consider one other factor: the KMT practically obliterated Taiwan’s intelligentsia in the 2/28 Incident, where some estimate as many as 20,000 intellectuals died.

  11. Yes, I think the Nanjing Massacre shows the kind of atrocity that humans are capable of, not just a single culture. There are, unfortunately, other examples, such as the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. Thinking about America, the massacre at My Lai in Vietnam could be compared to Nanjing but on a smaller scale, and to rival the number of casualties at Nanjing there were the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan which obliterated something like 150,000 civilians. If you add the later deaths from radioactive fallout, the total casualties approaches or exceeds the number in Nanjing (depending on which set of estimates you take).

  12. By the way, how nice that you enjoyed the quirky Kikujiro! I seem to recall that it has one or two moments of violence too, although not as much as some others of Takeshi Kitano’s films, such as the excellent Hana Bi (Fireworks). But from what you’ve said, I’m sure even that doesn’t compare to Ichi the Killer.

  13. Ben,

    GTO stands for “Great Teacher Onizuka.” It’s a Japanese TV series and movie (I’ve only seen the movie) about how a crazy young substitute shakes up a small town in Hokkaido. It’s a lot of fun.

  14. Todd,

    Yeah, I liked Kikujiro a lot, and loved the theme song.

    I also really liked Hanabi. Yeah, it’s violent, but at least there’s a point. And it’s nowhere near Ichi the Killer levels.

    That Takeshi/Tarantino collaboration was total garbage, though.

  15. Todd, I don’t know about you, but i’d rather be at ground zero of an atomic bomb than suffer many of the things the Japanese did in China during WWII…don’t forget, Shenyang and Haerbin were ground zeroes for Japanese war attrocities as well..i’m hoping to get a chance to see the japanese germ warfare museum in Haerbin next mont.

    Chinese like to say that the modern Japanese people ignore their war attrocities, but in fact, it’s really their government that are the lying jackals for hiding the facts from the people..so don’t hate the Japanese people, hate the Japanese government! The fact their PM still visits that war memorial shrine in Tokyo means the government hasn’t learned a thing…

  16. Todd,

    That’s exactly what I tell my Chinese students — if they’ve gotta hate, it’s the Japanese government they should hate. And once the new generation gets in office, we should see some changes in attitudes. (Unfortunately, the new generation seems to have a whole slew of problems all its own…)

  17. Hmm, ground zero would of course be the cleanest way to go, although remember that tens of thousands died from radiation sickness over the following years. But my point was that the deliberate purpose for dropping those bombs was to achieve massive civilian casualties.

    I agree that the Japanese government needs to recognise that dark side of history. It’s an interesting example of Japan’s democratic society that there are some groups of Japanese historians who have long been saying that Japan must take responsibility for its war crimes. And other historians of a more revisionist bent too.

  18. Itchi the killer is a great piece of art, carl still sucks

    I love japan

  19. one of the questions i normally ask japanese friends is how their history classes were when they were in school. for some part, younger people are unaware of what their grandfathers have done, but there is also growing awareness, and a will to avoid the same mistakes. then again, even if i have a lot of japanese friends, that’s still a very small percentage and in no way indicative of national sentiment.

    i’m surprised about the chinese reaction towards the japanese though. i am assuming these are mostly from older people? younger people, at least here in the south, semi-worship japanese pop, and are somewhat oblivious to any atrocities committed during the war. either they don’t know, or they just don’t care, as long as ayu is singing her songs and the fashion trends keep pouring in.

    that said, takashi miike caters to a specific crowd (although i’ve been exposed via dead or alive and audition, i guess i haven’t acquired the taste). murakami haruki rocks (i have newfound appreciation about sofas and pasta thanks to him). and if it’s lighthearted you’re after, why not ping pong or the older waterboys?

    on ichi: the scary thing is, you probably saw the edited version (which is going around in our area), which leaves out a good deal of material already. the unrated version i heard is coming out (or came out). i’m not rushing.

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