Izo

2004 [JAPANESE]

Action / Drama / Fantasy / Horror / Sci-Fi / Thriller / War

4
Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Rotten 33% · 6 reviews
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Spilled 56% · 5K ratings
IMDb Rating 6.0/10 10 4766 4.8K

Director

Top cast

Liam O'Brien as Prince
Sam Riegel as Izo
Takeshi Kitano as Chancellor
480p.DVD
1.11 GB
716*480
Japanese 2.0
NR
23.976 fps
2 hr 9 min
Seeds 19

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by reelreviewsandrecommendations 6 / 10

A Time-bending Thrill-ride

Sometime during the late Endo period, noted samurai Okada Izo is tortured and ritually slain upon a crucifix. His soul does not die, however, embarking on a period hopping journey through space and time. Fueled by bloodlust- and with occasional pauses for philosophical rumination- the vengeful spirit of Izo murders with impunity, slaying any and all who cross his path. Whether or not his appetite for revenge is satiated- and if his soul is cleansed by all the bloodshed- remains to be seen in the strange, stylish thrill-ride that is Takashi Miike's 'Izo.'

An action epic with a metaphysical foundation, 'Izo' is a bloody odd film from a director who specializes in them. Written by Shigenori Takechi, the film has a non-linear narrative structure that jumps through time periods like a springbok, and can be a little confounding and hard to follow. The journey the titular character goes on is intensely violent and frequently exciting, though uneven and imperfect. Throughout the film, thrilling battle sequences are interspersed with plodding, dialogue-heavy scenes that frankly don't work.

While one can appreciate the fact that Takechi and Miike are attempting to add another dimension to the tale, amid the madness of time-shifting, gore-splattered fight scenes, philosophical ponderings are jarring and out of place. The narrative becomes imbalanced, and the film's pacing suffers as well. Which is not even to mention the fact that the philosophy at the heart of 'Izo' is rather shallow and simplistic, and could easily be expressed in a more eloquent, understated manner. Fans of Miike will probably be left a little underwhelmed by the proceedings; some may even be bored.

Though, to repeat oneself, the action in 'Izo' really is pulse-pounding stuff. Expertly choreographed, the battles are fast and frenetic; and will surely have you on the edge of your seat. Federico Benvenuti and Ravindra Pratap Singh Ricky of the stunt team do marvelous work and the displays of swordplay in the film are breath-taking. In fact, the brilliance of the action unfortunately underscores again the deficiencies of the story and dialogue. It's a real shame Miike didn't have a screenplay to work with as strong as the action in his film.

What he does have is an emotive, off-beat soundtrack from Kazuki Tomakawa that is unforgettable and unique. Tomakawa periodically turns up in the film to serenade Izo and the audience, like the minstrels in 'Cat Ballou,' or Jonathan Richman in 'There's Something About Mary.' Tomakawa sounds a little bit like a Japanese Tom Waits, and the intensity and weirdness of his songs and his performance suit the crazed events of 'Izo' perfectly.

The film also boasts stylish cinematography from Nobuyuki Fukazawa, who has for many years worked on the show 'The Woman of S. R. I.' His muted efforts give the film an assured, stark visual style that is arresting and admirable. The set and costume design is also striking, with the titular character's main outfit being especially notable. Additionally, while Yasushi Shimamura's editing is a little loose during the dialogue scenes, he cuts the battles together masterfully; and his work deserves praise.

Also praiseworthy is Kazuya Nakayama, starring as Izo. Nakayama has a strong presence that dominates the screen, and his performance is steady and impressive. He handles himself well in the fight scenes and manages difficult dialogue with a remarkable ease. The character and his motivations may be somewhat recherche, but Nakayama is consistently commendable. His supporting cast are all terrific, but get very little to do in comparison. Kaori Momoi and Takeshi Kitano are particularly good and, though on screen for a short time, leave an indelible impression on the viewer.

At the end of the day, Takashi Miike's 'Izo' is a bit of a mixed bag. Though containing thrilling action sequences that will have you glued to the screen, the dialogue is mediocre and overly wordy. Additionally, the film's philosophical cogitations come across as a little half-baked, and the non-linear narrative structure can be confusing. The film does feature a great Kazuki Tomakawa soundtrack and a strong central performance from Kazuya Nakayama, as well as fine cinematography from Nobuyuki Fukazawa. To cut a long story short, 'Izo' is a film both muddled and memorable; another unique offering from one of the strangest directors in cinematic history.

Reviewed by Quinoa1984 5 / 10

it is a 'love it or hate it' movie, and I love it and hate it in almost equal measure

After watching perhaps the most reckless, surreal, mystical-style take on the ultra-bloody grind-house samurai epic, I'm not too sure who is more relentless, its main character- the unstoppable un-dead/spirit Izo (Kazuya Nakayama, likely in the performance of a career, for better &/or worse) or its director Takashi Miike. It's been compared to both Greek mythology and Jodorowsky's El Topo, and I can definitely see credence in both examples. In the first half hour to forty five minutes, actually longer if you account for, um, story, you're not sure precisely what the hell (no pun intended) is going on. Izo, at the start, gets crucified, and then we learn after a while (err, it's pretty obvious) he was quite the warrior and swordsman, who is out for vengeance as he comes back as an un-crushable spirit. Later on, we get a view into what tags along with him, in a female form, as a 'fragment', but for the most part one can only try to assume that Izo is on a collision course to nowhere, a pure embodiment of nihilistic anarchy who could be the Terminator in blood-eyed samurai garb if he/it actually had the mission.

I can't deny that Miike deserves an 'A' for effort on this sort of thing, but it's also the kind of project that veers the closest of all the work I've seen of his so far to that most overused of terms- pretentious (albeit I haven't dug deep enough into his oeuvre to make that definitive). I mean, really, what are we to make of cut-aways at varied, completely random times of newsreel footage of dictators and famous world wars and atom bombs going off in black and white, sometimes in reverse mode, or in sped-up mode? What about a guy who comes in and out of the (very loosely laid) story to do acoustic-guitar musical numbers? It does all connect, I suppose, to the sort of random madness and almost Superman-like ability to not get really that harmed, unless around his quasi-kryptonite of the order of the 'Soul-fragment'. A lot of what ends up popping up as sort of the history of Izo, before he was turned into the ultimate grudge with a sword, would be really interesting on its own, but strung together like this with the rest of the picture made it frustrating for me. Perhaps I wasn't ready enough for all of this, but for all of the virtuosity that Miike is going for with his bloody, full-blown surreal odyssey, only some of it works well while the rest falls into 'huh' mode.

But the rest of this picture is what's almost teasingly ironic about Izo. As a swordplay movie, the kind that delivers the goods on action set-pieces and violence galore, doesn't disappoint, and if anything it shows Miike knows this kind of picture, which is why in a sense he's probably trying to lampoon it underneath the very dark and Gothic exterior. Nakayama is a real force to be reckoned with, and he works well in his all-too-limited role. It's always hard to do variations on the same style of killing- slicing a sword in the blink of an eye, and sometimes seeing the (appropriately) blood-soaked and flesh-torn aftermath, or in an immediate cut-away- and Miike pulls out his entire arsenal of tricks, including a set piece with the one American actor- Bob Sapp- who barely puts up a front either despite his huge size. But even with the creativity in many of Izo's murder sequences jarring and excitingly outrageous, the repetition becomes a little tiresome. And it wasn't that the picture was too confusing, though it does contain that side of the El Topo, where it's basically intentional for it to go in circle's around people's heads.

The messages that barrage the viewer though through the content (like in one scene where Izo is at a school and you-guess-what happens and there are cutaways to classrooms where kids are asked to define 'love', 'nation', and other ultra big words taken for granted) are what become fuzzy or just too off-kilter for their own good. For someone who is usually so sharp on the edge with satire, Miike here is trying to scrape up enough with the action to justify it being there, because, of course, Izo's world is in some otherworldly plain of Greek tragedy, Buddhism, and other factions that are also connected to the true depravities and horrors of the world. But it's too much on one plate, and there's definitely the sense of overload. It's the kind of picture where the director does, more often than not, stumble on his face with his own ambitions; that being said, I'd much rather see a movie by Miike that only reaches up so high to its ideals than for a lesser filmmaker to just churn out typical product. Izo is anything but typical product, and it follows no rules (and destroys much like its character), which becomes part of the problem, at least on a first viewing.

Reviewed by trippycheez 5 / 10

Too long, too sloppy, but worth seeing once

The Philadelphia Film Fest program guide described the plot of IZO as such:

"A samurai travels through time with just one goal: to kill every single human on the planet."

That basically sums it up. A man takes a sword and hacks away at nearly all the people he comes in contact with. He stabs a military general to death with the help of some zombie soldiers. He slices his own mother's body in half from the waist down. He kills some kids, he kills some businessmen, and he kills a real estate agent who turns out to be a vampiric demon. When he kills infinity (yes, infinity ITSELF, not an infinite number of people) and the movie STILL doesn't end, things start to get a little tedious.

Knowing Miike, you'd be right to expect some outlandish violence, a high body count, and perhaps a mind-boggling plot from all of this. What you might not anticipate is a lot of philosophical mumbo jumbo, World War II stock footage played backwards and forwards, and a guitar player who appears every so often to sing throatily about elephants and flowers. (At one point the camera lingers on this guitarist's face for a full SEVEN MINUTES or so without any cuts or camera movement.)

Though I think I may have liked Izo, I have many criticisms.

First of all, for a film about sword-fighting, IZO lacks both the beauty of HERO and the direct outrageousness of KILL BILL. Quite simply, the fights were poorly choreographed and involved too many cheesy stunts. Izo flies over his enemies a few times, just like the characters in CROUCHING TIGER flew, only less elegantly. Izo dodges a bullet in slow motion just like Neo did in the MATRIX. The sound of a heart beating played over fade-ins and fade-outs just like it does in every made-for-TV horror flick in existence. During the rare times when Miike WASN'T deploying effects that have already been clichéd for years, each sequence seemed to go like this:

1. Close up of Izo's face 2. Close up of other guy's face 3. Shot from behind other guy as Izo hits him in the stomach with sword 4. Close up of other guy falling down

For the first ten minutes I didn't mind the lack of special effects or variety, but once I realized that there wouldn't be any progression and that the film would go on like this for a full two hours, I began to feel rather antsy.

The repetitive fight scenes could have been alleviated by some decent cinematography. If you can't give me an engaging plot, at LEAST give me something interesting to look at! But no. The whole movie had a very sloppy vibe, as though it had been rushed through production. Many of the shots seemed haphazardly composed or not composed at all, like arbitrary shots of tree branches and jittery hand-held action footage. Indoor shots were often over-exposed by light coming in from the windows but otherwise under-exposed. I sometimes had the sensation that brief flashes of stock footage were inserted to make up for gaps in continuity. Also, it could be that I saw a worn print, but the first half of the movie had a very brown, drab feel. Perhaps some sharp color could have livened things up.

So yes, the movie was boring, ugly and maybe an EL TOPO rip-off, but somehow I thought it was good anyway. Part of my positive opinion stems from the fact that I admire any director who has a dream and achieves it, no matter how wrong they may be to do so. Also, intellectually, this IS a very engaging film. Since Izo is so unrealistic as a character, the viewer is practically forced to understand his journey as an allegory. In my opinion, Izo represents the grudge mentality: when someone hurts him, or acts like they want to hurt him, he always reacts swiftly and lethally. When a person ignores him or approaches him in kindness (like the schoolteacher, a few of the women, or the children of the future who have learned that nations do not really exist), he lets them pass without harm. His general aim is to destroy anyone who claims to have more power than he does, including the Prime Minister and God. Through juxtapositions with World War II footage, we see that Izo's attitude is linked with Japan's stance during World War II: surrender is dishonorable, but by not surrendering, one is only asking for more violence. In order to stop war, one must cease to threaten it, thereby undercutting the formation of a grudge.

While watching IZO, I felt like I would understand the details better if I were more familiar with Japanese traditions and culture. My feeling was correct. After probing around the internet, I learned that Izo was a true historical figure, a samurai-turned-homicidal maniac. I also learned that the unusual style of music played by the guitarist (fanciful lyrics, anguished voice) is a distinctive Japanese genre that emerged after World War II in response to all the suffering.

Still, I would not recommend IZO lightly, not even to Miike fans. I'm not sure if the film is brilliant or terrible, but overall... life is short and IZO is long. Watch it only if you have the time or patience for such an undertaking.

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