On January 4, 1964, a convoy of patrol cars traverse a provincial countryside to escort captured criminal Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) to the local police precinct for interrogation. Callous and unremorseful, Enokizu laments his inevitable fate as unfair, citing that his arresting officers will outlive him and continue the pursuit of hedonistic pleasure now denied him. The indignant and self-absorbed Enokizu refuses to answer questions that will aid the police trace his fugitive steps from the first inexplicable murders a few months earlier, on October 18, when Enokizu decided to murder his coworkers, an affable deliveryman named Tanejiro Shibata, and the quiet, unassuming driver, Daihachi Baba. Despite his unwillingness to cooperate, the police investigation has uncovered an accurate, albeit unsettling, account of Enokizu’s destructive path. His mistress provides a glimpse into his insatiable sexual appetite and emotional cruelty. His father, Shizuo Enokizu (Rentaro Mikuni), recounts a difficult episode in the summer of 1938 when a Japanese officer humiliated Shizuo, and his seeming cowardice causes a lifelong animosity and estrangement with the young and impressionable Iwao. Enokizu’s neglected wife Kazuko (Mitsuko Baisho) has left him, but agrees to return at his father’s request, only to be accused of having an affair with Shizuo. Driven away by his family and determined to evade the authorities, Enokizu moves into the Asano Inn, a secluded retreat near a cemetery that is managed by a trusting, repressed innkeeper named Haru (Mayumi Ogawa) and her interfering, eccentric mother, Hisano (Nijiko Kiyokawa) who reputedly spies on all the guests. Posing as a benevolent university professor, Enokizu continues his destructive double life of theft, swindles, and senseless murders.
Based on the true story of convicted murderer, Iwao Enokizu, Shohei Imamura creates a harrowing, bizarre, and fascinating chronicle of aberrant, self-destructive behavior in Vengeance is Mine. Combining the naturalistic, frenetic elements of documentary filmmaking with the stylization of elliptical narrative, Imamura creates a chaotic and fragmented portrait of a serial killer: the disorganized and awkward execution of the murders; the achronologic temporal leaps in the narrative structure; the rapid, cinéma vérité styled camerawork as Enokizu checks into the Asano Inn. In essence, the disjointed appearance of the film reflects the underlying dark soul of the inscrutable and amoral Enoziku. In a puzzling, surreal final scene, Shizuo and Kazuko travel to the top of a mountain in an attempt to bring closure to Enoziku’s misguided life only to find their actions thwarted by an irrepressible, divine force – a cruel final reminder of the inescapability of justice and retribution.
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