It looks awesome, it sounds awesome, but what the hell is it all about? The meaning of Shigenori Takechi's scerenplay is elusive to say the least. Miike's direction is typically eccentric, imaginative, beautiful - all the things I've come to expect from one of the greatest auteurs working in cinema today, not just in Japan, but internationally.
If you're looking for a straightforward narrative, or structured character development, then this film is bound to disappoint. If it's important to look for meaning, and I'm not at all sure it is, one line from the 'bard''s commentary may be a clue. To paraphrase, it goes something along the lines of "it's all very well to be anti-war, but what about being anti-human". In a way, that seems to enapsulate the mood of the film.
Izo is like a cleansing fist, crashing through layers of human ignorance-made-flesh at random; as random, in fact, as existence itself. To call this an anti-war film or a meditation on human history as the history of violence is, I think, too reductive. It simply isn't that one-dimensional and resists such a banal interpretation. This is pure surrealism, at it's most random and brutal. It's serious, but then again, ridiculous and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. It's nihilistic, but it's also about rebirth and the endless hope of renewal. It thrives on contradictions, which is what surrealism is all about.
But if we put all this semantic hand-wringing to one side, what we have is a movie that is fundamentally a BLAST to watch - at least once; the relentless violence might start to become a little tedious on repeat viewings. Taken at face value, it's a demonic undead wandering samurai, who happens to be able to traverse time and space at will (possibly not his own will, judging by his constant state of confusion), putting to the sword whomever should appear in his path, whether it's a class full of school children or an improbably muscular ringer for a Gamorrean Guard. It's a pan-dimensional beat 'em up, where each new character is mid-level fodder or a formidable end-of-level boss, all to be served up and annihilated for the sheer hell of it.
Dir. Takashi Miike, 2004