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We begin in 1865, when the Shogunate is on its last legs, but still capable of punishing its enemies. One is Izo (Kazuya Nakayama), an assassin in the service of Hanpeida (Ryosuke Miki), a Tosa lord and Imperial supporter. After killing dozens of the Shogun's men, Izo is captured and crucified. Instead of being extinguished, his rage propels him through the space-time continuum to present-day Tokyo, where he finds himself one with the city's homeless. Here Izo transforms himself into a new, improved killing machine, his entire soul still enraged by his treatment in his past life. His response to the powers-that-be, whose predecessors put him to death, is the sword. Written by
The latest chapter in Takeshi Miike's continuing essay on humanity and brutality, IZO is a two-hour experimental mind-trip.
If this film were in any way concerned with making sense, the storyline might resemble something like this: A man is brutally murdered in ancient Japan, but, bearing his vengeance, he returns to the Earth and wanders uncontrollably through time and space, becoming the embodiment of mankind's self-destructive nature. Throughout his wanderings, he encounters all kinds of strange and metaphoric characters, and he proceeds to kill them all with his samurai sword.
This film is an elaborate thesis on mankind, but the exact nature of the message is a matter of debate, as is whether or not Takeshi Miike himself even has a clue. There will no doubt be differing opinions as to what the characters represent, but you better make up your mind during the first hour of film. After that, most of the scenes that obviously point out a social message - like black-and-white footage of war - disappear, and what the resolution is depends on your interpretation of the characters.
For those of you not familiar with the works of Takeshi Miike, suffice it to say that he is determined to mine the human subconscious in search of new and exciting ways to make people throw up sushi and tempura on the carpeted floors of Tokyo multiplexes. Among Japan's pantheon of ultra-violent directors, he is notable for being always ready to address the issue of his own sadism. Ever film he makes is like an expansion of Hitchcock's shower scene, forcibly accusing us of being sadists at the same time as he delivers great images of cinematic violence. More than the social commentary, which is confusing and likely uncertain, the most interesting philosophical study in IZO is Miike's self-examination of his own lust for violence, as well as the main character's and the audience's. Is Izo so brutal because he is inhuman, or because he is too human?
You may not get anything from straining at this befuddled movie, but it is still enjoyable and provoking, if not gut-wrenching, experimental cinema. Any violent philosophical essay that features long shots of a folk singer playing guitar and screaming ballads is worth a look. IZO has elements of Kafka, Lewis Carrol, Terry Gilliam, and Seijun Suzuki, but it is undeniably Takeshi Miike.
You can call Miike sadistic. You can call him demented or depraved. Just don't forget to call him an artist.
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