Shohei Imamura is one of those auteurs that Japan seems to spew forth on a regular basis with little effort.. Like Kurosawa, Imamura takes western film concepts and flips them on their heads, creating something new and possibly disturbing to our sensibilities. Films like THE PORNOGRAPHER, PROFOUND DESIRES OF THE GODS (also available on MOC and a true beauty) and BLACK RAIN are both profound and disturbing in equal measure, and VENGEANCE IS MINE is probably on top of that pile.
The 1979 film tells the based-on-true-events story of Iwao Inokizu, a middle-aged and apparently respectful man who suddenly develops an inexplicable urge to maim and murder at an almost random level, and despite an extensive manhunt for him he continuously slips through police fingers - Finally seeking shelter at a brothel he develops a bizarre love interest in the madam... A Love that can not be expected to last or even exist, yet it does. Not many western films could tackle such a subject without lapsing into parody or over-the-top NATURAL BORN KILLERS lurid technicolour, yet Imamura somehow not only reins in the story amongst the madness, but ultimately gives it a human face as well. It needs to be seen to be believed basically, and thanks to Masters of Cinema and Criterion we have the opportunity to do so.
The Blu-Ray HD restoration is amazing, and no doubt MOC sourced the print from the aforementioned Criterion who never cease to amaze - Extras and essays just add cream to this coffee. If you have any interest in Japanese cinema or even cinema in general, watch this film and make others watch it as well.
on 17 October 2010
Vengeance Is Mine (aka: Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari) marked Shôhei Imamura's return to fiction filmmaking after a decade spent working on documentaries. Imamura, who had begun his career working as an assistant to the great Yasujiro Ozu, soon found that the older master's style was not to his taste, so he moved on, eventually making his own directorial debut in 1958.
In the following years, with such films as Pigs And Battleships (1962), The Insect Woman (1963), and Intentions Of Murder (1964), Imamura found a place in the Japanese new wave along with contemporaries Masahiro Shinoda, and Nagisa Oshima. The failure of 1968's Profound Desire Of The Gods, however, led to the director to withdraw from feature filmmaking, working mainly in television on non-fiction projects.
The film which heralded his return, Vengeance Is Mine, is based on the true case of Nishiguchi, a Japanese criminal who eluded police for 78 days while committing five murders. The novel from which the screenplay was taken changed the name of the anti-hero to Iwao Enokizu and fictionalised real events. By providing a 'halfway house' between complete invention and real crime reporting, the source thus gave Imamura an ideal stepping-stone back into feature films: retaining the support of documentary inspiration whilst allowing the director to bring his personal vision and structuring to the events unfolding on screen.
Modern viewers are long used to a diet of slaughterer cinema, whether it be the Eileen Wuornos depicted in Monster, Albert Fish of The Grey Man, or much less illustrious fodder as Bundy, and Ed Gein. But even after 25 years, Vengeance Is Mine remains one of the few outstanding mass-murderer screen biographies. Told through a series of flashbacks, Imamura's film suggests by its structure both the disassociations of a killer's mind as well as reducing any empathy between creator and lead figure.
Thus we see Enokizu's story in five different time periods or points of view: first, during his final arrest and in police custody; then during the police investigation itself; while the killer is committing his crimes and escaping from the law; fourthly, his life before his crimes. Finally there's a scene or two occurring after the execution.
By recounting the various stages in a killer's life in non-linear fashion, interesting juxtapositions are possible, all the while dramatic tension between crimes is disrupted. We know that the murderer will have his way and the opening shows us he has been caught. The script's treatment of the material means suspense is removed from events, instead placed at a psychological level, i.e. not on how Enokizu builds to a killing and, presumably, hopes to get away with it, but why he does.
But as Alex Cox says, in the introduction to this Eureka edition: "there are no easy answers" found in a movie much more oblique in its presentation than Hollywood might attempt. Indeed, for the most part, Enokizu's crimes seem to have no overwhelming motive at all (apart from the need for survival money), although deep at the heart of his compulsive behaviour is his bitter relationship with his father. And as Cox further observes, although Vengeance Is Mine headlines a biblical source, ("vengeance is mine, I shall repay sayeth the Lord") it is not absolutely clear in the film on who, or what, Enoziku is wreaking vengeance on.
If providence is interested in exacting justice by turn, bringing a necessary come-uppance, its mainly represented by two or three shots over the course of a film, suggestive of a hangman's noose - much more man's law than heavenly retribution. This, while Enokizu is caught and punished, such critical moments (commonplace set pieces in such western killer-centered films such as In Cold Blood) are not even shown. Vengeance Is Mine leaves precise moments of apprehension and execution to our imagination. Instead it shifts focus onto a fractured criminal career of mayhem, familial confusion, and casual sex.
Enoziku's father, Shizuo, is a complicated figure who stands as much at the centre of the narrative as does his son. Shamed during the war by refusing to stand up to the requisitioning authorities (a traumatic event witnessed by his son) he later develops a close relationship with Enokizu's wife. Although we presume not consummated, this attraction is a continuing source of great friction. But as Shizuo admits, another tie binds them as: "the blood of the devil runs in my blood too."
At the end of the film it is left to Shizuo, a Catholic, to feel the guilt his son never expresses, and undergo excommunication as he arranges to be buried away from his wife in final penance. Critics have argued that Enoziku's murderous career is ultimately inspired by a lack of ability to kill his own father, and this failure is what motivates in turn his rage against others. Shizuo certainly recognises this weakness in murder during a final confrontation between the two, and it represents Enoziku's only regret.
With many of its characters drawn from the working classes and a preoccupation with sex, Vengeance Is Mine is a film entirely characteristic of its director, even after a decade long hiatus in his feature career. Like Mizoguichi before him, he often concerned himself with fallen or distressed women in his movies and here they are, represented once again. Imamura had also been a black marketeer in his early years, and was quite at home depicting the underbelly of society, whether it be the sleazy family inn at which Enoziku finds himself, the casual nature of the call-girls brought to its door or the fact that grandmother (herself a killer) watches intimate proceedings through a peep-hole.
Enoziku adapts the identity of a university professor during his stay at the inn, and elsewhere a lawyer (filching thereby an amount of money saved for a parole payment). Both outwardly upstanding and hunted at the same time, the criminal hides his culpability beneath a respectable façade. As with the rest of the film, the director's distancing allows no judgement on this state of affairs, merely showing Enoziku's illusion as convincing. Instead it leaves the anti-hero and his actions in a limbo, dependent on our own moral standpoint. Like the murderer's bones, thrown into the sky at the close, matters are suspended between heaven and hell, requiring further investigation.
The blu-ray disc presents the film well, although the difference between this and a regular DVD is necessarily minimal given the source. Alex Cox's brief introduction is informative, if in typical off-the-cuff style. The package also includes an original trailer and teaser. An interesting and enlightening commentary track by authority Tony Rayns is well worth investigating and represents a significant extra, although this is most likely carried over from the regular DVD release. Unless one is particular about a blu-ray acquisition the cheaper format is the way to go.
on 7 January 2011
This is a very powerful movie featuring moments, I found really breathtaking. You don't find this kind of moments in movies today. Ken Ogata as the serial killer Iwao Enokizu is just nearly the best performance I ever saw. Not to mention the many female actresses starting with his wife played by Mitsuko Baisho, Haru - Mayumi Ogawa, the daughter of the Inn keeper and her mother Nijiko Kiokawa as Hisano Asano.
What we see in this movie, is a broken man, broken by his family and the relations. It starts on Goto islands, where his father - a catholic - is punished by the Japanese marine in 1938 and his son strongly opposes and calls his father a 'weak man'. Later on his wife played by Mitsuko Baisho, is in love to his father instead of him, causing even more problems.
You can imagine, this is a very bad starting point for Iwao Enokizu.
This movie is two hoursa and twenty minutes long, but I found it very entertaining and it kept me watching. The story is told brillantly and Shohei Imamura does an excellent job. You will see, watching this movie.
The movie is really set in the feeling and time of late 70s in Japan. This doesn't match the times the movie plays in some times, but it is OK.
The picture quality is varying. Sometimes you see a very grainy picture but most times, it is very good. The sound is AC3 192 kb/s and the picture is an average of 30 Mb/s. This is absolutely OK for me after seeing what was done of the Alien Anthology and the picture quality there.
I highly appreciate the work of Eureka! and their Masters of Cinema series. I also bought Metropolis the fully restored version and was not disapointed at all. Go on Eureka!, I fully support you.
Highly recommended for all cinema lovers. A wonderful - I would even say - masterpiece of Japanese cinema.
On the one hand it is brilliant, on the other, when unpicked, it resorts to an Omen style explanation of the universe. Some people are born of the devil as defined in the tacky ending. I felt let down with this cop out. Horror films unless done with some twist of camp, insight or a psychological insight leave me cold. They were merely religious kitsch locked within a modern parable of good versus evil. This film, which is not exactly obvious dumped me into this pseudo christian reality
A huge shame because in between, there is some of the most oblique painful scenes of killing set to celluloid. The mundanity of the styles of life, the gruesome deaths are too real in their depiction. Cruelty, callousness, vileness and the petty nature of life and death are explored, along with inter familial rivalries.
However I just did not get why he hated his father so much, just because he caved into the Japanese authorities when younger, this does not make sense.
The filming however is tort, dark, etched within another calibre altogether. We are led around by the Director through flashbacks and forwards in a very fine and intricate film showing the man's power over women, his need to be loved, their desire to protect him and his callousness.
It is worth watching and I can see why it won accolades, but for anyone who knows anything about killers, then Jim Thompson's "Grifters" or "Pop 1280," or the "Killer inside of me" offers so much more. One case where the Americans were far more emotionally literate than the Japanese, which is why Thompson is a master along with numerous other Japanese films, but this is not the same class.