Director: Shōhei Imamura
Writer: Masaru Baba; based on Vengeance is Mine by Ryūzō Saki
Cinematographer: Sinsaku Himeda
Producer: Kazuo Inoue
by Jon Cvack
This is my first dig into Shōhei Imamura work; whose The Pornographers is the film I'm most familiar with (simply for the lecherous plot; especially for a 1966 release). I haven't explored too many Japanese films from the 1970s and up through the present day; though it seemed that, just as all English thrillers are standing on the shoulders of Hitchcock, all crime films from this era are expounding on the Kurosawa and what he did with his contemporary work - High and Low (1963), The Bad Sleep Well (1960), or Stray Dog (1949). And yet second to the taste of Kurosawa is the clear influence Tarantino would take from the film's hyper violent structure.
It opens with the arrest serial killer Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) who’s in the back of a police car, on his way to be interrogated for the murder of numerous individuals. Greeting a roaring crowd of journalists hungry for the scoop, he’s led inside to the interrogation room
Told through a series of flashbacks, Iwao recounts the story of how he became a killer. In a non-linear structure, we learn he’s the son of a fisherman who lost his boat to the Japanese Navy with the rise of the modern empire and future Axis of Evil member. He had exhibited rebellious and violent tendencies from the earliest age. He ends up meeting a beautiful woman Kazuko (Mitsuko Baisho) who he brings home to ask his father’s permission to marry. With Kazuko not being a catholic, the father denies his blessing, though they get married anyway. Soon Kazuko falls for and seduces another woman Shizuo (Rentarō Mikuni) in one of the hottest scenes I’ve seen from the era; involving a hot tub and a summertime storm.
Enokizu then gets involved with his first double homicide, which provides him the means to travel to another city where he ends up at a brothel; dating one of the prostitutes, Haru (Mayumi Ogawa), while convincing the recently returned house mother, Hisano Asano (Nijiko Kiyokawa) and her husband that he’s a college professor.
Enokizu soon leaves the brothel as suspicions abound that he might be the killer. He returns back to Tokyo where he cons a mother out of bail money for her son and murders a lawyer, always returning to the brothel. With the news constantly running his sketched headshot across the television, the family soon pieces together the story. When Enokizu returns, he kills Haru, Hisano and her husband, pawns off their goods and falls back on the road. Five years later, he’s caught.
Writing out the synopsis, the story and characters feel so much more shallow than they are. Similar to Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men (2007), Enokizu is frightening in how fast he shifts from indifference to charm. The story between his wife Kazuko and his father Shizuo is equally fascinating; full of maddening desire and sensuality. The scenes between Hisano and Haru provide a interesting look at a mother and her daughter told with a fantastical and tragic situation; as the daughter genuinely believes she’s falling in love with a college professor.
At its most base level, the story is similar to Ozu in providing an honest and realistic portrait of lower and middle class characters. It’s as though Imamura took the crime films from Kurosawa and put them in the world Ozu. As alarming and violent as this film is - at times difficult to watch - the great characters dial you in. Vengeance is Mine is up there with any of the great crime films from 70s, if not alongside the very best.
BELOW: Not much on the YouTube front so here's the trailer
Like what you read? Support the site on Patreon
Please report any spelling, grammar, or factual errors or corrections on the contact page
© Jonathan Cvack and Yellow Barrel, 2015 - 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jon Cvack and Yellow Barrel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.