Vengeance Is Mine (1979)

 

 

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In 1979 director Shohei Imamura turned Japanese cinema upside down with brilliant violence, sensuality and surreal lust with the masterwork Vengeance Is Mine. The fact based story stars Ogata Ken as Iwao Enokizu (based on real life serial killer Akira Nishiguchi) , a relentless man with endless charm and lots of unchecked aggression. Enokizu is the son of a devout Catholic father and a loving mother who turns the other cheek when faced with the reality of her son’s destructive nature. The narrative derives from the real life 78-day killing spree and nationwide manhunt for Akira Nishiguchi in late 1963. Vengeance Is Mine is a landmark piece in Japanese cinema, as it was one of the first Japanese films to showcase the darker side of modern Japan, one of the few films to kiss the decay of modern Japanese society, to touch on subjects such as lust, adultery, mindless destruction and chaos-as-art. It is a complete precursor to the extremes of modern Japanese filmmakers such as Takashi Miike, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Ogata Ken’s psychotic performance is one of the truly blood curling and mind altering experiences in the history of cinema (right there with Malcolm McDowell’s Alexander DeLarge, and Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth).

 

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“I like to make messy films”. Director Shohei Imamura was once the understudy/assistant of cinema legend Yasujiro Ozu during the early 1950’s. Imamura did not like the tame approach and portrayal of Japanese society from his mentor; an approach that was very typical of Japanese cinema up to that point. Imamura carved his own unique niche in the early 60’s and became one of the more prominent figures of the Japanese New Wave. His cinema had a much more realistic view of the world, a view filled with strong women, and in many cases broken men. After spending most of the 1970’s creating brilliant documentaries he finally returned to fiction based cinema with Vengeance Is Mine. Shohei Imamura’s cinema thrived on the decay caused by Japan’s modernism and post-war nuances, his cinema is the reason we have photographers such as Nobuyoshi Araki (much of his photography is based on the decay found in modern Japan). Cinema is art, and Imamura was one of the great artists in cinema. An artist that made much different films than those of the great Ozu, or the great Kurosawa, he was a pioneer and a visionary, and Vengeance Is Mine was just further proof of that, as this film was a huge part of the evolution of cinema. Period.

 


 
The colors, the shot selections, the music, the fashion, and the sexuality and rawness of this piece place it in the pantheon of extreme art cinema. The Criterion Collection has restored the work and added it to their Blu-Ray library. It is newly released in their updated format and is worth your attention. Are you ready?