Sunday, March 8, 2009

Around and Around We Go - Izo (2004)

Izo is a strange one. Then again, Takashi Mike is infinitely strange, so I’m not sure what I was expecting. If you’ve read about this film before, you know what you’re getting into. If you haven’t, then my advice would be to not expect a traditional vengeance/sword fighting film. Izo has both vengeance and sword fighting in spades, but goddamn, it’s bizarre. I think that’s what I like about Mike – he turns otherwise straightforward stories into something twisted and unique. There are plenty of films about violence and swords and all that, but when films like Izo come along, they make you go “what the hell?” Then you end up watching it two or three more times before you’re finally satisfied with the experience.

From what I could gather in a single viewing, Izo is about a man who is killed and becomes doomed to wander the space-time continuum; he’s a vengeful spirit out for the blood of anyone he comes across. At seemingly random intervals, he instantly transports between eras and locations, and everywhere he goes he leaves a bloody mess behind him. All the while, there is a group of men, who I think are some kind of keepers of the afterlife, and who Izo is ultimately seeking. They act more like a board of directors, which is why I wasn’t sure who the hell they were for about half the film. But once I figured that out, I thought it was an interesting depiction of the way things work out there in the infinite space and time beyond death. Izo, however, doesn’t think it’s so interesting. All he really wants is to kill everyone and be spared his fate of aimlessly wandering around. What makes Izo different from other vengeance films is the way he fights. He’s not a martial arts master, and neither are most of the people he fights with. Instead of gracefully slicing through foes, it sometimes takes him a long time to get the job done. His style communicates anger and frustration, and a lot of the time it entails just flailing and hacking at someone until they drop. He’s not very efficient, and since he’s an immortal spirit, he can’t be killed. That means he takes a lot of punishment over and over again, and he simply outlasts everyone else. I’m not even sure who “everyone else” really is. They might only exist in Izo’s demented hell of an afterlife as punishment for whatever he did while he was alive. But I don’t really know, and I think the film works better that way. Not knowing makes it that much more strange to behold, and I think a definite narrative structure would have ultimately lessened the impact. It’s a little like a David Lynch film, in that you sort of know what’s going on, but at the same time, you have no fucking idea what the hell is happening. It just so happens I like Lynch, and Izo strokes the same muscles in my head that long for this kind of mental exercise.

Make no mistake, this is a fairly bloody film, but I was actually expecting a bit more. That said, there are some rather gory bits, but I actually liked the more normal sword-stabbing and fighting better than the times when something totally over the top happened. For instance, he slices someone in half, and the guy freezes for a few seconds while his upper torso slowly slides down to the floor. I’ve seen that exact thing at least three times before, so it wasn’t too interesting to me. But the fighting itself is really cool, mainly because of what I mentioned before – Izo isn’t interested in looking good while he’s running people through. He’s pissed off and full of futile rage, and no matter what ere he’s in, the outcome is always the same. He gets stabbed and shot about a thousand times before the film is over, but still he struggles on, repeating his actions, I guess, forever. There are also frequent acoustic guitar solos by this weird musician who pops up every now and then, and his songs always have something prescient to say about Izo’s situation. His songs are pretty fucking bad ass, though, because he doesn’t really sing them. He just kind of yells and chokes a lot and gets really emotional. You’ll have to watch it to understand what I mean, but trust me, he’s great. I think I’ll get a better understanding of this film with every viewing, and once really isn’t enough. I’d guess a deeper view of what’s going on only comes from understanding small things here and there, and honestly, I can’t wait to piece this crazy ass puzzle together.

And, no, I don't know why there is a S.W.A.T. team.

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