Alongside my DVD copy of Ichi The Killer, there is another short film that comes with it: Ichi The Killer: Episode 0. Running at a meager 40 minutes, Ichi The Killer: Episode 0 is an anime prequel to Ichi The Killer that matches the art style of Hideo Yamamoto. It tells the story of Hajime Shiroishi (Ichi) before his assault of Kakihara and the Anjo gang. Ichi The Killer: Episode 0 dives into Ichi’s past, before he became controlled at the hands of Jijii, chronicling his childhood bullying, the abuse he sustained from his emotionally unavailable and twistedly perverted parents, how killing animals gave him a taste for killing, and the first time he released his anger on real people, thus becoming Jijii’s assassin.
What surprised me at first was that fact that the story of Ichi the killer: Episode 0 was written by Sakichi Sato, the same man who wrote the live action adaptation of Ichi The Killer, so naturally I assumed that Ichi The Killer: Episode 0 was going to be a prequel to the live-action adaptation. However, this is far from the case as Ichi The Killer: Episode 0 is more of a prequel to the manga than the film. The first reason for this is in Ichi’s character: Ichi in Ichi the Killer: Episode 0 is completely different to the Ichi in the live action adaptation. In the live action adaptation Ichi barely talks and is incredibly reserved, yet incredibly prone to violence. In this adaptation, however, Ichi is very talkative and although quite reserved and somewhat prone to violence, he doesn’t come close to the psychopathic characterization I saw in the movie, Takashi Miike’s characterization is far more memorable than this one. This particular characterization does match the character of Ichi in the manga, however with his addiction to psychical exercise and talkative yet highly regretful manner. Also, there’s the problem in the chronicling of Ichi’s past in relation to the live action adaptation: Jijii in the movie downright states that he fabricated a lot of Ichi’s past life in order to make him more violent and confused. Beyond that, it’s left up to the audience’s interpretation over how much of Ichi’s life was fact, and how much of it was fiction, blurring the lines between reality and delusion in that famous Takashi Miike way. In the anime, the film starts off straight away by saying that Ichi is violent and has killed previously, before saying how he was bullied and abused completely thus destroying any ambiguity that was hinted to in the live action film. So, this is definitely a prequel to the manga rather than Takashi Miike’s film – which also makes perfect sense because Takashi Miike’s name is not associated with this short movie in any way.
The story is somewhat all over the place. It chronicles Ichi’s life, but it begins with Kakihara’s death from Ichi The Killer before going backward to the beginning with no subtitle or even a transition. This left me incredibly confused as to where this film fitted in with the timeline, and I only really knew that it was a prequel at the end when the film showed that Kakihara was alive. Add to this the fact the movie jumps between pre-Kakihara Ichi and childhood Ichi frequently with no warning or subtitle, and a viewer is left with a very confusing movie to grasp, especially due to the fact that pre-Kakihara Ichi and childhood Ichi uses the exact same character design. If it wasn’t for the surreally colored filters that were used solely for the childhood sequences, it would have been incredibly hard to determine which point in Ichi’s life that one is actually seeing. That being said however, the film actually chronicles Ichi’s life in a progressive way. The film doesn’t show Ichi’s life out of order as the childhood events are shown in a logical chronological order, which are then broken up by sections of the incredibly short pre-Kakihara storyline. In the pre-Kakihara storyline, Ichi falls in love with a woman who is secretly working for Jijii, and she manipulates him into releasing his relentlessly psychotic side. The film doesn’t really pace these particular scenes out well at all, and the lot of the pre-Kakihara sections could be left out and nothing would have been lost. However, the childhood sections definitely give an insight into Ichi The Killer’s psychological background, even if that background is somewhat stale and predictable if one has ever seen a film about a serial killer before as it follows every single trope: bullying, abuse, uninterested parents, killing animals etc, etc. Its as bland as it sounds and doesn’t really add anything new or interesting to spice up the story.
Another thing that struck me about the short movie is the fact that it is highly sexual and perversely violent, probably even more-so than the live action adaptation. Granted that it doesn’t even have a fifth of the absolute carnage on display in the live action movie, the anime still captures that sense of perverted masochism with choice depictions of sexual and erotic acts that weren’t depicted in the live-action movie, with graphic shots of sexual arousal to boot, so I suppose that’s something in the anime’s favor.
On the visual side, that’s definitely where the anime stands out. The visual style matches Hideo Yamamoto’s art style to a tee and aside from a few odd-looking errors that stand out in the film, the visual style is quite innovative to witness. It mixes aspects of realism with surrealism giving an uncomfortable feel akin to that of the famous Akira. The artwork itself definitely stands out: along with defined characters each with their own particular appearance, there’s a lot of flowing movement which accentuates the fast-paced action of the more violent scenes. The gore is effective and brutal to witness thanks to the creativity of a drawn medium, and the film is incredibly ugly to witness, but it’s definitely purposely ugly to match the grotesque subject matter. Another shining aspect of this film is the sound design and incredibly bizarre music that definitely helps the surreal and bizarre visual style that this anime was going for. But, it all fizzles out when put together with the mediocre story; proof that style over substance is not a good idea.
Ichi The Killer: Episode 0 is a good-looking movie, but it’s disappointing and uninteresting story does not in any way live up to the greatness of Takashi Miike’s movie. The anime seriously pales in comparison and leaves me appreciating Takashi Miike’s movie a lot more because this uninteresting but stylish adaptation is what it could have been had anyone else directed the movie. I recommend seeing Takashi Miike’s movie over this film, because the anime is just disappointing. The visual flair doesn’t save the lackluster and generic content. The film really could have been interesting had it not represented Ichi’s life in such a stale way and actually tried to mix up the formula with an interesting characterization of an already interesting character. I feel it would have been much better if it was just an anime adaptation of the original manga, because then it would have a great groundwork to go off of, but in the end, it’s just a forgettable flick.