Kill Bill Vol. 1
A pregnant bride and her entire wedding party are massacred by a shadowy organization. Or so they think ... for the Bride actually survived. Waking from a coma years later, she immediately embarks on a journey of revenge that takes her to Japan, to face her personal demons directly, and slay them once and for all. Her final goal: to take down the boss of the whole operation, a man known simply as Bill.
The anime sequence in this film tells the backstory of one of those "demons", a half Chinese-half Japanese female yakuza crime boss named O-Ren Ishii, and how she came to be one of the most feared assassins of the Far East.
Since the primary purpose of this review site is to discuss Japanese animation, you might wonder why we have decided to feature a Quentin Tarantino live-action film. Well, one of Tarantino's directorial decisions was to tell the backstory of O-Ren Ishii in anime format. While the whole film is obviously influenced by the Western perception of Japanese pop culture (the Kurosawa-style gouts of blood, the over-the-top action sequences), it is the anime segment that really sets the tone for the rest of the film.
So while there are many aspects of this film that are worthy of discussion and consideration, I will be focusing on the animated sequence and how it fits in, both with the other segments of the film, and with anime in general.
Technically, there's no mistaking this as "anime", but it will not be immediately stylistically familiar to many viewers. This is because Kill Bill's animation is a product of Production IG, known more for its visual work rather than for its plotting and storytelling. THEM reviewer Jason Bustard describes it as "an art house that happens to produce anime" which is a fair assessment. So much of the look of this segment feels sketchy and experimental, closer to The Animatrix than mainstream anime.
While there's very little dialogue (a rather rare thing for any American film, and rather welcome at that), keen listeners will pick up familiar voices -- the young O-Ren is voiced by Maeda Ai (Mimi, Digimon), and one of the yakuza thugs is voiced by the ever-familiar Midorikawa Hikaru (Heero Yuy, Gundam Wing). No, there is no dub ... this is in all versions of this film. (The fact that there is no dub leads to some rather incredibly awkward moments later in the film with two non-fluent Japanese speakers spewing gouts of expository dialogue ... but that's neither here nor there.)
One of the notable things here is the extremely violent edge of this film, which are so excessive they actually detract from the "reality" of the situation. Undoubtedly, this is why Tarantino was able to wrangle an R instead of an NC-17, as the climax of the animated sequence features O-Ren graphically getting revenge for her murdered father by taking advantage of the pedophile yakuza boss who ordered the crime.
I can't honestly say I enjoyed this segment. After all, the depiction of preteen schoolgirl astride a yakuza boss, tearing him apart with a katana would seem to reinforce much of the negative stigma that anime has been trying to avoid over the last few years. At the same time, the segment is executed very well, and that deserves kudos. If anything, Tarantino deserves a lot of credit for exposing mainstream audiences to anime. Part of me wishes it weren't in such a stereotypical manner, though ... I wonder how many more people I'll have to convince that anime isn't "schoolgirl porn" before the decade is through.
Tarantino's choice of this as a pivotal moment in this inaugural Kill Bill film is interesting. The events prior to this flashback are much less theatrical and over-the-top in comparison to the events afterwards. It's a subtle effect, but one that I appreciate, at least on a superficial level. But that's the big problem ... it's really superficial. (Less charitable folk may say gratuitous.) There was no real reason to make this animated, apart from Tarantino's thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to have an anime segment in this film?" There's no doubt that it's good, but was it really necessary? I really don't think so.
Overall, there could be many worse ways to be introduced to Japanese animation, but this is a film that I could only recommend to people who already know what to expect from Quentin Tarantino's work. It's highly violent and excessively graphic, with a streak of dark humor that is undoubtedly an acquired taste.
That being said, I do feel this is a film worth watching once, to satisfy the fan's curiosity about how a connection between Tarantino and anime could possibly work out ... but odds are you'll really have to like Tarantino to fully appreciate what this film has to offer.
The rating reflects the technical and stylistic merit of this film. While the anime segment feels rather superficial and gratuitous in intent, the execution and actual integration are largely faultless, and what could have been a disaster ends up as something of a credit to its creators (both IG and Tarantino). However, if you have seen other Tarantino films and found them lacking, you may simply want to drop a star or two, and go elsewhere. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: ABSOLUTELY NOT FOR CHILDREN. I am about on the median between squeamish and jaded, and I found myself wincing rather often during this film, even more so than in Pulp Fiction. In the anime sequence alone, there are numerous bloody deaths, as well as one scene of pedophilia that really stretches the MPAA's R rating to its bounds. It's telling that the inclusion of excess gore and blood actually prevented the rating from going up. Tarantino fans and action junkies will eat this up, but the squeamish should just stay home.
Version(s) Viewed: Theatrical print, audio in English and Japanese
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Kill Bill Vol. 1 © 2003 Miramax Films
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