A portrait of a serial killer that is more intimate than almost anything you have seen before in mainstream cinema.
Forget your Norman Bates (Psycho) or your Hannibal Lecters (Silence Of The Lambs)
they are nothing but pantomime monsters. The killer in Vengeance Is
Mine is not some over the top psycho with a mummy complex or a desire to
eat people. He is, on the surface, a normal everyday man with little
respect for the value of human life. The problem is that despite his
lack of conscience he is also a hugely charming individual, when he
wants to be. Like a Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) he has desires which distil him into a truly real and terrifying killer.
Based on actual events in Japan that led to a 78-day manhunt Vengeance Is Mine is the story of Iwoa Enokizu (Ogata).
The film opens with his capture and then, through a series of
flashbacks, a look back at his life and the crimes he committed over the
years. From his brief spell in prison for fraud to his eventual
killings that saw him evade the authorities, the film looks at his
relationships with his wife, father and mother as well as a love affair
with an innkeeper.
One of the most remarkable things about Vengeance Is Mine is how well it has dated. It could easily be seen as a contemporary piece of filmmaking and play alongside Old Boy (2003) or American Psycho (2000). That it was made in 1979 is testament to how well this film has translated through the years. Director Imamura (The Eel, Black Rain)
spent his early career making documentaries and his docu-style is
utilised to chilling effect here. His camera lingers in a scene and
takes in the most nuanced of details allowing you into the mind of Iwoa.
At no point does Imamura force a motive on his audience. Iwoa is a
man who simply has his own set of morals that are alien to the rest of
the society. Factors as to his behaviour are hinted at, like the
humiliation of his father when he was a young boy, or the sexual
attraction between his wife and his father, but none are ever pinpointed
as the reason for his psychosis. In many ways the title ‘Vengeance Is
Mine’ is misleading, as at no point is there anything Iwoa is seeking
revenge for. Throughout the film there are events to interpret but
nothing to lead you in one direction. In doing this Imamura creates an
ambiguity that allows Iwoa to be an enigma you are not supposed to understand. Perhaps if you do, you hold too much in common with him.
The result of this is a fascinating story but it lacks an easy
point of access. Iwoa is an unsettling character making him hard to
identify with. The people that enter his life are deeply flawed making
it difficult to truly engage with. That the film runs at over two hours
makes this something of a sticking point in maintaining the interest of
Thankfully it is rife with brilliant performances. As Iwoa’s
father Mikuni has a pivotal role to play. He excels in the part with a
degree of resentment towards his son but also guilt that he may have
aided in his son’s outlook. As the one person who seems to be able to
tame Iwoa, Ogawa as the Innkeeper Haru is one of the weakest characters
on offer but this might lend itself to his attraction to her. However,
Haru’s mother is a character that Iwoa seems to have a lot of respect
for. A killer herself having served time for her misdemeanour Kiyokawa
plays the role with a brilliant battle-axe mentality, dictating her
daughter’s choices to her with a cruel calmness. It is Ogata though who
stands out in the lead role. Able to portray the inner turmoil of Iwoa
while always projecting an everyman sensibility he is a treasure to
behold. He is at his best when toying with the officers interrogating
him in his blasé nature to their accusations. In fact, in these moments
he instils a bitter sense of humour into the role.
Vengeance Is Mine is a film that gets beneath the skin of a killer in
a remarkably original way. It never panders to the villainy of a
psychopath but makes no attempt to apologise for it either. Perhaps too long and violent for some, it is nonetheless a film that intrigues and disturbs in equal measure.