who had a run-in with con man Akira Nishiguchi were fortunate if they only lost
a few hundred thousand Yen. He also left
behind a trail of bodies. It was precisely the sort of case that appealed to
Shohei Imamura’s artistic sensibilities, inspiring his return to narrative
filmmaking after a string of legit documentaries. Appropriately, Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine (trailer here) screens in New
York during the similarly titled Vengeance is Shohei Imamura film series now underway at the Asia Society.
known as Isao Enokizu, Imamura’s Nishiguchi proxy never had a good relationship
with his devoutly Catholic father, Shizuo. He was somewhat closer to his
mother, but her persistent health problems largely keep her out of the
picture. He was a punk as a kid and
graduated to full blown criminality as an adult. Nevertheless, his father convinces his wife
Kazuko to remarry him during his first prison stretch, for religious
reasons. Frankly, she will not see very
much of him, even after his release.
the audience witnesses in graphic detail, Enokizu will murder two former truck
driving colleagues on their collection day, launching a seventy-eight day crime
spree that will thoroughly embarrass the Tokyo police. Given the in media res opening, it is clear
Enokizu’s luck will eventually run out.
The question is how long he can last and how much damage he can do in
it happens, he finds the perfect hiding spot: a discretely tucked away suburban
no-tell motel, run by proprietor Haru Asano and her mother, who specialize in
procuring prostitutes for their guests.
Posing as a visiting professor, Enokizu maintains a professional
relationship with Asano during his initial stay, only becoming her lover later,
when his secret is out.
are a strange thing in Vengeance. There is no accounting for them, beyond the
usual lust, wrath, and resentment. While on the surface, Vengeance functions as a manhunt procedural thriller, an atmosphere
of moral decay hangs over the entire film. It opens with one of the messiest,
clumsiest murder sequences perhaps ever and proceeds to show viewers several of
Enokizu’s furtive assignations, where sex and violence are provocatively
intertwined, so you should probably leave the kids home for this one.
a career defining performance, Ken Ogata is convincingly seductive within
Enokizu’s on-screen world, but he
leaves viewers deeply creeped out. He is a pure sociopath, whose emotional
range spans from cold blooded calculation to spitting rage.
Enokizu is a practically a force of nature, like a hurricane, but his father
and assorted lovers are not merely generic victims. Rentarō Mikuni expresses in vivid terms just
how the elder Enokizu’s moral failings are exacerbated by the stress and
disgrace generated by his son. Likewise,
Mitsuko Baisho is achingly pitiable but still remarkably sensuous as his long
suffering wife Kazuko. Mayumi Ogawa is also
equally haunting as Asano, a woman condemned to a life of Dickensian struggle
by the scandals of others.
Both in terms of its themes and scope, Vengeance is one of the great films of
the 1970’s, sitting comfortably beside the likes of Coppola’s The Conversation and Polanski’s Chinatown. It is definitely a muscular noir, but it has
a bitingly existential chaser. Highly recommended
for all movie lovers, it screens free of charge this Friday (1/24) as part of
the Vengeance is Shohei Imamura mini-retrospective
at the Asia Society.
Labels: Asia Society, Japanese Cinema, Shohei Imamura