Vengeance is Mine

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #384: Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine.

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This film was much more graph­ic than I ex­pect­ed it to be. It al­so has some great sex sce­nes. I’ll get in­to what I mean by great a bit lat­er. The film is based around an ac­tu­al Japanese se­ri­al killer whose ear­ly life and strict Catholic up­bring­ing seem to be the main mo­tives that dri­ve him to his wild­ness. The Catholic as­pects aren’t promi­nent, but are still quite im­por­tant. Their unique­ly Japanese ex­po­si­tion was a bit rem­i­nis­cent of Shusaku Endo’s Silence, but that might be con­fir­ma­tion bi­as since those are the on­ly two things I know about that are Japanese and Catholic. Basically what I mean by “unique­ly Japanese ex­po­si­tion” is that their Catholicism is more Buddhist than in the West. This might seem ob­vi­ous, but it is this com­bi­na­tion that en­ables the se­ri­al killer Iwao Enokizu’s fa­ther to ac­cept the suf­fer­ing that he goes through so read­i­ly.

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This ac­cep­tance, at least from the film’s point of view, is what gives Iwao an ear­ly re­bel­lious­ness to what he sees as his father’s cow­ardice. The film’s con­ti­nu­ity con­tin­u­al­ly shifts be­tween the past, the fur­ther past and the present to con­struct a tale in­stead of the more doc­u­men­tary feel that a lin­ear plot would have ex­hib­it­ed. Imamura seems to have been metic­u­lous in his arrange­ments; we learn of Iwao’s crim­i­nal abil­i­ties over and over again be­fore we fi­nal­ly see them in­ac­tion, yet they are still star­tling even then. Iwao’s mon­stros­i­ty high­lights the dark de­sires in all of the oth­er char­ac­ters as well. The re­sult is the filmic equiv­a­lent of a mass Confession, all sins ex­posed, but with a bit­ter [Buddhist] lack of ab­so­lu­tion. There are at­tempts at atone­ment, but no for­give­ness.

The sex sce­nes are the best ex­am­ple of the dark de­sires, and the film is full of them. There are two par­tic­u­lar­ly hot ones: the first be­tween Iwao’s fa­ther and Iwao’s wife in a hot spring dur­ing the rain [they ba­si­cal­ly just grope each oth­er be­fore guilt over­whelms] and the sec­ond be­tween Iwao and his last lover; he talks about his mur­ders while they get it on, and that re­al­ly turns on his lover. I say the­se sce­nes are hot be­cause their ob­vi­ous pas­sions have a dan­ger­ous emo­tion­al gristle; a hint at the dark thing that sits next to each of their souls.

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Iwao’s cru­el­ty is so fun­da­men­tal that even the tiny strug­gles of his good na­ture be­come twist­ed by cun­ning and mal­ice. At times he im­pro­vis­es ex­cel­lent haiku that are ex­treme­ly sur­pris­ing in their con­text. There are reaf­fir­ma­tions that he loves his moth­er through­out his crim­i­nal life, and at times he makes small ges­tures to a sick old wom­an who re­minds him of her. But, he us­es the­se ges­tures to get in­to the pants of the woman’s daugh­ter, and mus­cles in­to their lives. It turns out that the old wom­an killed her hus­band many years ago, so she be­comes an in­ter­est­ing men­tor to Iwao. Through her ques­tion­ing, we learn that Iwao hasn’t killed the per­son he wants to, and it is fair­ly easy to guess that this is his fa­ther. The fore­shad­ow­ing and guilt-wear­ing res­ig­na­tion comes hard and fast to­ward the end of the film, for all par­ties. There is lit­tle, if any­thing, light about this film, but for those who like to take un­flinch­ing looks at their own weak­ness and where it could lead, it is a great re­source.

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