Saturday, September 15, 2007

[Japanese Film Festival] Vengeance Is Mine (復讐するは我にあり/ Fukushû Suruwa Wareniari)

Looking Down

Shohei Imamura's multi award winning film Vengeance is Mine follows after the dismal performance of The Profound Desire of the Gods, this time being a film that is more accessible. Based on a novel which follows the life of crime of real-life criminal Iwao Enokizu (played by Ken Ogata), at one time the most wanted man in Japan for his series of murders, this was probably my favourite movie today, until I watched Imamura's Palme d'Or winner Ballad of Narayama.

It's no surprise that this is something more conventional, given that it plays out narratively in retrospect, and that audiences sure like something that is based on real life. I thought it unfurled similarly to Catch Me If You Can, except that while Frank Abignale Jr was once a conman, defrauding banking institutions and adopting various identities, Iwao Enokizu was a killer first, and conman second, assuming identities to obtain cash for basic necessities, and for pleasurable moments to satisfy his lust for flesh.

The story seeks to discover his motivation and rationale for a life in crime, and goes way back to when Enokizu was a child, and hating his father for being weak in standing up against oppressors (in truth, there is little he can actually do except to lose his life if he doesn't comply). Hatred also bred deeper when his father is a religious hypocrite, obviously sinning against Enokizu with the lust for his wife Kazuko (Mitsuko Baisho, who's a dead ringer for Hong Kong actress Cherie Chung), and strangely enough, for Kazuko to fall heads over heals for the old man too. This father-son dynamics, like in Catch Me If You Can, pops up now and then through the story to remind you of the beginnings of the feud, except that there is absolutely no love between the two of them.

I thought Ken Ogata is enigmatic on screen, with his crazed antics as the killer on the loose, and his suave demeanour when posing as a professor and a lawyer. There's this mean streak within that glint in the eye, and surely, this is one man you definitely would not want to cross. For the most parts of the story, it deals with the love between his Enokizu and an inn manager Haru (Mayumi Ogawa), who falls in love with devotion of blind faith, and the happenings within the confines of that inn. What I thought was a bit difficult to sit through though, was the violence against women in the movie, with the constant slapping across the cheek (and I notice this too in the other Imamura films), and some included rape.

But the theme that took the cake was the one on religious hypocrisy as personified by Enokizu's father Shizuo (Rentaro Mikuni), and really, this is the kind of dads, or persons that you'll love to hate. Preaching something and practicing another, you wonder whether Enokizu would seek him out for revenge, since it seemed like Shizuo was indeed Iwao's most hated person on earth, rather than work on his victims by chance.

Vengeance of Mine is full of nudity, sex and gratuitous violence, which gave it an R21 rating for today's uncut screening. Simple to follow, and definitely enjoyable by fans who have a preference for true life crime stories. Some of the actors here become familiar faces when they get casted again in the next movie, Ballad of Narayama, and I thought Vengeance was a nice way of introducing those actors to us first.

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