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Takashi Miike, 2004
Japan | Japanese | 128 minutes
One of Miike’s most challenging films, and perhaps his most outrageous and perplexing, Izo is a swordplay movie-cum-existential meditation on violence and hatred. Provocative at the time it was released—sandwiched between mainstream hits One Missed Call, Zebraman and The Great Yokai War—it seriously divided audiences and seems ripe for a reappraisal, particularly in the light of Miike’s newest, more mainstream swordplay movie, 13 Assassins. Protagonist Izo Okada was a historical figure, a low-level samurai executed in 1865 for assassinating government leaders (director Hideo Gosha also based his 1969 film Tenchu! on the same character, with Zatoichi star Shintaro Katsu playing Izo).
The film begins with this bloody execution and the subsequent reincarnation of Izo (Kazuya Nakayama) as a veritable angel of destruction, traveling through various historical periods of Japan and into the future, slaying all that come before him, from salarymen to political leaders to God himself. Miike seems to be working in an almost experimental mode throughout the film, laying on both symbolism and surrealism more heavily than in any other work, interrupting the narrative (such as it is) with stock footage and performances by guitar-toting folk singer Kazuki Tomokawa, and filling the film with cameo appearances by stars ranging from Beat Takeshi, Ryuhei Matsuda (Big Bang Love: Juvenile A), old-time yakuza star Hiroki Matsukata (also in 13 Assassins), legendary samurai actor Yoshio Harada, Miike regulars Renji Ishibashi, Kenichi Endo, Susumu Terajima, superstar Ken Ogata (Mishima), and actress Kaori Momoi (Sukiyaki Western Django) to mixed-martial artist Bob Sapp, among many others. What results is a cacophony of bloody imagery and riotous sound, with little in the way of story but an overwhelming, trance-like effect. Truly a one-of-a-kind film, there’s never been anything like it in Miike’s copious filmography, before or since, and it’ll blow your mind in ways you didn’t know were possible.