Rating: 3/10
Year: 2004
Genre: Fantasy
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Kazuya Nakayama, Karoi Momoi, Ryuhei Matsuda, Beat Takeshi, Hiroki Matsukata, Ken Ogata

As a cult icon of Japanese cinema, prolific director Takashi Miike always brings surprise to his audiences. While his movies are mostly bizarre and full of experimental touches, there is usually a legible storyline to follow. However, the case is different for his new work IZO, a baffling tale of fantasy that does not make any logical sense at all.

One word can be used to summarize the plot of this movie - killing. It is all this movie is about. It begins with the brutal execution of our lead character Izo (Kazuya Nakayama). Soon after that, Izo becomes an immortal freak and time traveler. Whenever he goes, the only thing he knows is to kill. So basically the entire movie is about how he kills everyone he comes across, and when everyone dies, the movie ends. There is no transition or are any characters seem to be related. If these killing scenes were nicely choreographed, perhaps it could increase the entertainment value a bit, but sadly to say, most of these bloody massacres are lackluster and repetitive. Unless you have a fetish for chopping actions (with no aesthetic sense at all), it is just hard to patiently sit through the movie.

Rather than treating it as your regular popcorn flick, it is perhaps more appropriate to see IZO as an experimental (Avant Garde) film, and in fact, it would certainly make me feel better that way. Personally, I do not hate experimental film, and I have seen quite a lot of them when I was in film school. From what I know, these movies are not intended for commercial screening and the budget is usually not big, therefore the filmmakers can play around with innovative techniques and do whatever they want without too many constraints. Judging on these criteria, it is why I found it extremely hard to believe how Miike could possible persuade the film company and the investors to work on such a commercial project that fails to care about the feeling of the audiences at all. Some people may parallel it to say, Wong Kar Wai's movies, that are also incomprehensible to the audiences, but WKW is at least more honest about his own feeling and he is always able to incorporate his genuine emotions into his movies. Compared to that, IZO is rather pretentious, especially with the montage of the historical footage, everything just seems to be pointless and misplaced on the wrong track.

If I must defend this movie, I would say the story is more like a dream of the character Izo. That may explain why he can travel around time and the wounds do not seem to hurt him at all. It is also not surprising to see ancient samurai fighting in front of some skyscrapers or a pop singer performing in an ancient courtyard… if it is in a dream. Talking about the level of gores, IZO is in no way comparable to Miike's previous works like Ichi the Killer. Apart from the disgusting execution scene in the beginning, you only see blood shedding in most of the chopping scenes, there isn't any obnoxious moments that can make you puke.

This movie features an extravagant cast, including Kazuya Nakayama, Karoi Momoi, Ryuhei Matsuda, Beat Takeshi, Hiroki Matsukata, Ken Ogata, Masato and many more. Every one of them is top-notch actor in the business but most get merely a few minutes of screening time with some confusing dialogues. Therefore, it is really hard to criticize their performance.

IZO is certainly not a work for the mainstream audience, and also not the kind of stuff most Miike's fans would expect. While cult film is a pleasure to watch, it just seems that what Japanese cinema needs more now is something more concrete, that is, movies that can honestly depict the society and the people and let the audiences know what is actually happening in Japan.

Reviewed by: Kantorates