The murder of an English teacher living in Japan, by Tatsuya Ichihashi shocked both the UK and Japanese public. Shortly after the murder, Ichihashi went on the run and evaded the police for around 2 years. Following his arrest he wrote a book titled “Until I was Captured”. This film recreates those years from the book. It is largely not focussed on the crime itself, but on the impact that it had on Ichihashi. In the beginning of the film, we see Ichihashi in a train station being approached by the police. The film then shows through flashbacks and what appears to be an interrogation by an officer the events leading up to his capture. We see partial details of his crime, in which the body was buried in a bath of sand, and how he fled from police who came to his door, though the film assumes that its viewers will be familiar with the basics of the case. He moves from place to place, changing his identity, even going as far as having plastic surgery to change his appearance, and finding work in construction.
Dean Fujioka directs and stars in the film which is based on the book by Ichihashi. The film is controversial precisely for the reason that it is based on the memoirs of a real murderer. While other films have been made in the genre, they are generally another person’s take on true crime cases. The film essentially follows Ichihashi around as he moves from place to place, with cuts to him being interviewed. It is surprisingly uneventful in certain ways, but this adds to its power, as it highlights the terrifying emptiness at the heart of humanity. There is little dramatic that happens after the murder, and in fact it is almost the boredom of his experience that is the most surprising element. It becomes an existential drama about the purpose of going on with life, particularly a life that has lost value to the rest of society due to his crime. The direction is solid and does keep you engaged in the film. For those unfamiliar with what happened there will of course be interest in finding out how the case progressed. While it lacks the common cutaways of the police investigation, trial details, or any other point of view, it does what many films fail to by allowing the audience themselves to take on the role of moral arbiter. By simply presenting exactly what happened and allowing you to spend time with this person, you go through a range of emotions as you try to understand how something so terrible can happen yet the world continue as before.
The film has received some backlash as viewers feel it is sympathising with the criminal and largely forgetting the victim. Text at the beginning and the end attempts to counter these claims. “I am Ichihashi” is a fascinating look at a killer. It is not the first, and not the last film that will deal with this subject. The film’s focus being on the serial killer creates a disturbing atmosphere. The use of the camera in the interrogation scene speaks both to Ichihashi’s paranoia, and to the idea that the audience has a morbid fascination with murderers. Perhaps the most pertinent question in most people’s mind, and the reason why films about murder are so popular, is what causes people to do these things. This is something that the film never explains. It is a crime that seemingly came with no motive. The sexual assault and violence are left purposefully vague and serve primarily as the inciting incident. Rather than unravelling what led to these crimes, the film takes the alternative route of only focussing on the aftermath. In the end Ichihashi comes to the realisation that he can never change what he has done, he can never escape his guilt. It forces the viewer to confront themselves, and understand the devastating consequences of their actions and the responsibilities inherent on citizens.