Vengeance is Mine (Shohei Imamura, 1979)

It was about 20-25 minutes too long, and some scenes and plot points (mainly the sexual exploits between Iwao’s wife and husband) felt a bit extraneous.  That’s the bad part.  The good part is just about everything else in what I’m more than comfortable calling the first masterpiece I’ve seen in 2008  🙂 .  Never before have I felt such contempt for a character, only to do a complete about-face practically between scenes, with that contempt turning into understanding, pity, and even a bit of admiration.  Here’s a flawed (to put it lightly) anti-hero in Iwao who you first meet as a cocky, care-about-nothing serial killer who cares for nobody, perhaps least of all himself, and conducts his deeds messily and without glamor, and in me he inspired absolutely no feeling.  I hated him (he was a brutal, albeit unorganized, killer after all…).  But then the brash adolescent, whose brief glimpses of childhood we see give no hint as to why he kills, becomes a cool, icy chameleon.  As charming as he may be posing as a professor or lawyer, it’s clear that urge to kill is there and will always be there.  I use the word “urge” for a reason, because I don’t think we’re meant to get a grand design or reason for his murderous tendencies.  The more he appears like a normal person on the outside, the more you can tell his desire to kill innocents (and thereby blocking himself off from accomplishing his true goal) becomes a force that he cannot control, but ultimately accepts as his way of life.  On more than one occasion, this movie takes the expression “skeletons in the closet” literally, providing the ultimate metaphor for what I think is actually a moral conflict in this anti-hero.  Does he conceal his victims (and also his true horrific self) out of guilt for this out-of-control urge, or is it simply out of convenience?  I’d like to think there’s at least a little more humanity to him than that, but what’s certain is that try as he might to conceal all that’s dark in him (portrayed perfectly in the scene where he tries with all his might to keep the poor lawyer in the closet, or with the simple image/sound of a dripping faucet and a hanging knife.  Brilliantly subtle and simple cinematography here, and throughout), that urge will never go away, and nor will his fears and apprehensions.  One of the most compelling aspects of the entire movie, I thought, was the wonderfully macabre relationship Iwao strikes up with the innkeeper’s (his lover’s) ex-convict mother.  She took enjoyment out of murdering.  He clearly does not.  What does that tell you?  Who is Iwao Enokizu?  I don’t know, I’m sure Shohei Imamura doesn’t know, and most importantly, I’m sure Iwao Enokizu doesn’t know.  And neither I, the filmmaker, or its based-on-real-life subject will ever know just what goes into that kind of evil.

9.5/10

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