|“||At a time when I knew the least about my enemies, the first name on my Death List, O-Ren Ishii, was the easiest to find. But of course when one manages the hard task of becoming queen of the Tokyo underworld, one doesn't keep it a secret, does one?||”|
O-Ren Ishii (石井 オーレン) (Ishii O-Ren) was a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad known by her code-name Cottonmouth. She was born on an American military base in Tokyo, Japan. She is a half Chinese-Japanese American who was the daughter of a military man and a housewife. O-Ren eventually became the leader of a crime organization in Tokyo called the Yakuza, where she led the Crazy 88 and Gogo Yubari. After a duel in the snow, O-Ren was defeated and killed by Beatrix Kiddo.
It is presumed that her very early childhood was untroubled as little is known about her infancy. Her father was a Sergeant Major in the United States Army and her mother was a faithful housewife.
However, at the innocent age of nine, her life had forever changed when her home was intruded by assassins led by the ruthless crime boss, Matsumoto, Japan's cruelest Yakuza boss.
Whilst hiding under the bed for protection, young O-Ren witnessed Mr. Ishii, a brave man and skilled martial artist, disarm and kill two of Matsumoto's kumi-in. Although he fought fiercely and valiantly, his blind rage clouded his focus, and was subsequently caught off-guard when Matsumoto's right hand man, Riki, surprised him from behind and thrust a katana through his heart.
Immediately after her father's death, Matsumoto dragged Mrs. Ishii and threw her on the bed. Riki handed him the katana, Matsumoto personally executed Mrs. Ishii himself. Afterwards, the mob made a hasty departure. Riki, acting quickly to cover up the evidence of that night's horrific events, set the house ablaze.
Thankfully, despite her emotional state, O-Ren noticed the fire and managed to escape. As a result of witnessing the killings at such a young age, she was left psychologically and emotionally traumatized.
With her childhood and loved ones having been ripped away from her, she became obsessed with exacting revenge against Matsumoto and avenging her parents by any means necessary.
After spending 2 years training in assassination and marksmanship, O-Ren, now aged 11 and knowing that Matsumoto was a pedophile, lured him into a compromising position by disguising herself as an innocent school-girl. She then used a sword to dig deep into Matsumoto's gut, applying such intense pressure that his teeth cracked while she asked him if he remembered her before disemboweling him. The sheer force of the bleeding killed Matsumoto instantly and the entire room was nearly drenched in his blood with O-Ren being covered in it.
Soon after killing the boss, O-Ren used Matsumoto's corpse as a shield and hid under the bed. 2 of his henchmen attempted to shoot her but she evaded them and used her Desert Eagle 357-Magnum to blow off the henchmen's knees before her second and final shots decapitated both of them instantly. Decapitation would later become her preferred method of killing, not just of enemies, but henchmen who were rude enough to question her past and mixed heritage.
At the age of 20 (1993~1994), O-Ren had become one of the top female assassins in the world and was seen assassinating a Latin American political figure with just a single shot from her position of a rooftop.
Massacre at Two Pines
Over 5 years later and aged 25 (1999), O-Ren was a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and took part in the vicious attack against the bride at her wedding rehearsal, helping to kill 10 (though it was really only 9, considering The Bride survived) innocent people and being partly responsible for putting the Bride into a coma. O-Ren and her fellow assassins (with the exception of Elle Driver) showed some discomfort and measure of regret after the massacre.
Leadership in Tokyo
About 1 year after the Massacre, Bill fully supported O-Ren "financially and philosophically" in her power struggle with the other Yakuza clans over who would rule vice in the city of Tokyo. She eventually becomes what the Bride calls "Queen of Tokyo's underworld". She is accepted by most of the Yakuza clan leaders immediately, but ensures that they support her by beheading the only boss who was against having her as their leader.
Duel with Beatrix Kiddo
O-Ren was first on the Bride's death list, being easiest to find due to her infamy and high position in the crime underworld. The Bride begins her battle against O-Ren by killing and deforming her many subordinates. Firstly, Sofie Fatale (O-Ren's best friend, lawyer, and Lieutenant) who was present at the massacre, Gogo Yubari (a sadistic 17 year old school girl). The Bride then single-handedly massacred the entirety of the Crazy 88 (O-Ren's personal army), killing or wounding all except one (a young member who hardly had any sword fighting skill at all, the Bride simply spanks him with her sword and sends him away), before dueling with O-Ren in the snow.
O-Ren Ishii taunts the Bride. At first she refuses to believe that the Bride's sword is of Hanzō make which prompts the Bride to show the Hanzō emblem just below the guard of the sword. O-ren says, "That while a sword doesn't get tired, the Bride must be." The two trade comments and blows. O-ren first gains the upper hand (presumably due to Beatrix's previous efforts in defeating her subordinates) using both her katana and its scabbard. Using the scabbard to block, it gets destroyed by the Bride which causes O-Ren to initiate an offensive stance and fully commit. The two then cross katanas and resume their fighting. O-Ren deals a heavy slash on the Bride's back then teases her by saying, "Silly Caucasian Girl likes to play with samurai swords," as the wounded Bride lays on the floor. However, despite her wounds, the Bride manages return to her stance and defend a strike. The Bride then continues to retaliate and the two trade strikes until she slashes O-Ren's right shin. O-Ren cautiously limps backwards and checks her wound. She is surprised and realizes her mistake in underestimating the Bride and apologizes for her earlier remarks. The Bride accepts her apology and asks whether she is ready. They then return to dealing slashes met with counters, until O-Ren is overwhelmed and is forced to regain her footing. O-Ren then deals a heavy blow to which the Bride counters and swiftly retaliates with one swift horizontal slash, effectively removing the top of O-Ren's head. It is seen flying in the air and landing on the snow. As O-Ren stands with the top of her head gone effectively scalped, her final thoughts are of regard for the Hanzō Sword saying, "it was truly a Hanzō Sword." She then falls to her knees and onto the snowy ground.
A victorious Bride walks over and sits on a snow-covered bench, exhausted and blood-covered as well as remorseful at having to kill her former best friend.
Presumably, as a child, O-Ren was happy and carefree, living an ideal life. However, after witnessing the deaths of her parents at the age of nine, she became a closed-off, emotionless being, sacrificing her very childhood and innocence to avenge her dead parents.
As she grew older, O-Ren still retained the original ruthlessness and cold-blooded that she had developed as a child.
For being born an American, O-Ren was very skillful in speaking English as well as Japanese, her native language. She was extremely proud of her heritage and would not hesitate to kill anyone (especially her own subordinates) who dared to insult her family heritage, because she loved her parents very much and would not tolerate being spoken to in an ill-mannered way. Despite this, she was calm and level headed most of the time. She even encouraged her subordinates to speak their minds about her plans if they are not too convinced, as long as it is in a respectful matter and does not have anything to do with her background. She was an expert in business leadership. She did show some concern for her close subordinates. This was shown when she saw her best friend and Second-in-Command Sofie Fatale, who had her left arm cut off from The Bride with her sword.
The aggressiveness of Cottonmouth has been exaggerated by many people. This refers to the conflict between O-Ren's reputation as an assassin (and later as the Boss of all Yazuka Bosses) and her generally docile personality. The Cottonmouth delivers painful, potentially fatal bites, in reference to how O-Ren kills a victim in 2 strikes (if she does not kill them in one), one disabling and the next fatal (Beatrix, a strike to the back and would be a decapitation; after killing Matsumoto, she proceeds to shoot his henchmen in the knees and then in the head, respectively.)
Before striking, the Cottonmouth bares its fangs and shows the white lining in its mouth that earns it the name "Cottonmouth", this could be explained as O-Ren being quite a show-woman when it comes to combat, utilizing stylistic, flashy moves as seen in combat with Beatrix.
- Swordsmanship: O-Ren was a highly proficient swordswoman, skills developed over many years of practice. She was able to easily keep the Bride on her toes (who was armed with a Hanzo sword) and to injure her heavily on the back. Her weapon of choice was a curved shirasaya that could be wielded with either one or two hands. During the first part of her confrontation with the Bride, she fought holding the sword in her right and and the scabbard in the left, thus splitting offense and defense. However, after the scabbard got easily cut off, she wielded the katana with two hands, showing full commitment. The fact that she was able to stand toe-to-toe with a fellow assassin armed with a blade forged by Hattori Hanzō, the sharpness of which was stated by many characters to be past human capabilities, is proof of her immense skills.
- Marksmanship: O-Ren was a highly capable sharpshooter, killing at least one target via sniping from a long distance. The target was killed inside a automobile and neither of the people sitting next to the target were injured. She also was able to quickly kill two thugs with a handgun in quick precision. O-Ren carries shuriken which she used on one occasion when she noticed someone was spying on her from the other side of a shōji.
- Criminal Genius: While probably not on par with Bill, O-Ren was able to become the head of the Yakuzas and lead them successfully. She developed a hierarchy with Sofie Fatale as her second-in-command, Gogo Yubari as her personal bodyguard, and the Crazy 88's as her personal army (with Johnny Mo in charge).
- Hand-to-Hand Combat: The only time she showcased barehanded fighting skills was during the beating of Beatrix: she hit her with a flying kick in the face. She was most likely somewhat proficient in martial arts.
- Multilingual: She is fluent in English, Japanese, and Chinese.
- Miscellanous skills: She showed very quick reflexes and noteworthy speed while crossing blades with Beatrix. Her appearance belies her actual strength: she was able to effortlessly behead a man with one cut, and while holding her sword with just one hand. Furthermore, she is highly perceptive, as she was able to notice someone on the other side of a shōji. She speaks fluently in both Japanese and English.
- O-Ren's surname Ishii means "stone" (石) (ishi) and "well, mine shift, pit" (井) (i).
- In 2015, Lucy Liu named her son Rockwell Lloyd Liu in possible reference to the character, as the Japanese surname Ishii can translate to "Rockwell".
- The reason O-Ren's past was told in an anime sequence was because it had themes so controversial that live action with real actresses would have pushed the whole movie to an NC-17 rating, at the very least.
- O-Ren's character, manner of dress and origin story are partially inspired by the manga/film "Lady Snowblood". Her final fight in a snow covered garden is a direct reference to the film.
- In the 2008 video game, "Saints Row 2", in the Ronin mission, "The Kanto Connection", the player must travel to the sushi house "Kanto" and kill one of the game's villian "Jyunichi". After the player enters into the sushi house, Jyunichi would bow and say, "Die with honor". Listen carefully to the background as sometimes, one of the bodyguards would quip, "We will protect this boss better than we did O-Ren!" This is a clear and obvious reference to O-Ren Ishii and the movie.
- O-Ren Ishii's death scene is a homage to Canto 28 of "Inferno" by Dante Alighieri, which tells part of "The Divine Comedy". In that canto, a demon slices off the head of a sinner named Bertand de Born with a sword, to which Bertrand holds his severed head like a lantern, and then wanders around the ninth bolgia of Malebolge. Along the way, he encounters Dante and Virgil, and then tells him about his life story of how he got separated from his father, hence his punishment in the ninth bolgia.
- It's rumored that in the early stages of filming, O-Ren was originally decapitated at the end of her battle with the Bride, but it was kept because had she been decapitated, she would have never known that the Bride's sword really was a Hanzō sword.
- Lucy Liu won "best villain" at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards for her performance as O-Ren.