Vengeance Is Mine (1979)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Drama, Psychological Drama, Satire  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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After spending much of the 1970s making a number of well-regarded documentaries, master filmmaker Shohei Imamura returned to the realm of fiction with Vengeance Is Mine, a horrific character study of a bland-looking serial killer that brims with jarring violence and almost feral sexuality. Based on a true story and told in flashbacks, the film uses an innovative plot structure that winds back and forth between the present, during a police interrogation, and the past, including a 78-day spree of theft, whore-mongering, and murder. Though the film is littered with striking, nearly hallucinogenic images, Imamura shoots the unfolding events in a documentary style, with his trademark unobtrusive, distanced camera work. As a result, the grisly double murder near the beginning of the film is disconcertingly brutal and Vengeance's numerous sex scenes seem all the more racy. Though Imamura never spells out the protagonist's motives, the viewer is presented with an unnervingly intimate portrait of sociopath Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata), who is utterly unbound by any rules, morals, and laws (including laws of gravity, in the film's surreal final twist). Enokizu kills and cheats just about everyone except the person he hates the most, his father Shizuo (Rentaro Mikuni), who willingly submits not only to conformist demands of Japanese society but also to the dogma of the Catholic church. Having made a career exploring the messy underside of human nature, Imamura brilliantly renders this complex, hateful father-and-son relationship with the subtlety and detail that only a master could. This film ultimately made Ken Ogata a star in Japan and garnered prestigious Kinema Jumpo best actor prizes for Rentaro Mikuni and Mayumi Ogawa. Savage, bawdy, and darkly funny, Vengeance Is Mine is a striking journey in the mind of a killer that will linger on in the viewer's consciousness long after the credits have rolled.