Izo (2004)

DVD Cover (Tokyo Shock)
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Overall Rating 60%
Overall Rating
Ranked #5,144
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An executed samurai takes an existential journey throughout time, space and eternity in search of bloody vengeance. --IMDb
Review by Ginose
Added: February 20, 2010
Okay, I'm going to try and not start this one off with a bunch of Miike fanboy pandering, and, instead, I'll just talk about why I've always dug the surrealist film scene. It's not as if its difficult to craft a great piece of art-house film, I mean, just about every filmmaker tries it, after all, it's a great way to film a rather verbose feature with little to no actual narrative. To this day I couldn't tell you why people enjoy "Begotten". All the symbolism in the world can't compensate for an overly boring film.

A lot of more auteur directors can make a long, confusing, symbolism-driven film with a huge personal message and still make it enjoyable. How many people could try to denote the cinematic merits of the almost entirety of David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky collective filmographies? I could see where someone could try, but no argument truly stands its ground against "El Topo" or "Lost Highway" for long, other than "Just not getting it". Which is a weak one, at best, and isn't very valid in terms of actual cinematic merit. So, it stands to reason that things like surrealism should be observed for what they are, nothing more or less, and that can be a great and beautiful thing.

Crucified at for his horrible crimes on and off the battlefield, the spirit of the samurai assassin Izo is stuck in a state of infinite rage, feeling human-nature itself had betrayed him, and transcending different plains of existence as an incarnation of rage and revenge, viewing the whole of human history as the very elements of "society" and "humanity" attempt to stop him. With nothing but the burning feeling of hatred and vengeance working inside of him, his spirit continues upon its path until he has taken revenge on everyone and everything in existence, killing any and everything in his way.

One way to look at a film as complexly simple as "Izo" is from its avant-garde perspective, viewing it as a purposely confusing piece of cinema that caters more to the creators strongly held political and social beliefs rather than focusing on the characters, setting or actual story, but on the other hand you can view it as it is presented: a hyper-violent, gore-drenched samurai-epic that spans from the feudal age of Japan to the very edges of infinity, a story of revenge that pits our protagonist against the hardened-streets of modern Japan, to a hall of zombified WWII-era Japanese soldiers and even against Bob Sapp... which is awesome.

The performances hit the common, awkward grounds of uncanny surrealism that most of these movies do, but it genuinely works in these situations of terrible strangeness. Nothing ever remains constant for the hero throughout this piece, nothing at all throughout his journey, but it never once changes his horrifying perception, his mission of hatred and revenge. There is no liking Izo, there is no sympathy that we, as the viewer, can feel for him or his mission, but his determination keeps you bearing with him until the end, his determination is the only thing that never changes.

Another great thing about the movie is that it never forgets where it came from; it feels like the type of gritty, samurai epic that you would have seen from Kenji Misumi, and yet it carries the grace and simplicity of a film with far more depth, but, ignoring both pats, it still takes a transcending look at both the samurai and surrealist film movements and hammers them into something much greater than the sum of their parts.

Perhaps it's a mixed bag, depending on how you perceive the film, but it is a glorious watch, regardless. Absolutely gorgeous to look at, an experience unlike anything you're liable to see. I'd say watch it, even if you don't like it, you'll still be able to see something you've never seen before and may never see again.

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