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VENGEANCE IS MINE
1979 - Shohei Imamura
Japan
80
Opening Shot

Vengeance is Mine opens with an overhead shot of a group of police cars escorting a captured criminal, who gives no regret for his actions and only suggest to those arresting him that they will unfairly live longer then him (and that they will continue having sex).

The Film

Directed by one of the leading filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave, Shohei Imamura, Vengeance is Mine is an essential masterpiece of cinema. The film is based on the true story of convicted murder Iwao Enokizu. Blending elements of fiction and documentary style filmmaking, Imamura constructs a disturbing, surreal, yet fascinating portrait of self-damaging human behavior. Imamura is never sentimental or sympathetic but instead disconnected and through visuals is often metaphorically ironic, particularly in the way Iwao and his parents faithful Christian beliefs remains evident throughout the film (even if only as a subtle subtext). The visual pace and tone of the film expresses the dark and chaotic energy of a serial killer, as Imamura heightens this through an extensive use of camera movement and sharp editing style. Iwao is a self-absorbed man with a lost inner soul, battling against his own mind. The films title suggests various layers of meanings, perhaps reflecting Iwao Christian beliefs that vengeance is with God. Expressing this further is the film masterful closing sequence as we see the family try to establish a sense of resolution by throwing Iwao's bones from the top of a mountain, only to be disillusioned as Imamura freezes frames the images in a haunting remainder that the evil remains and that justice and vengeance are can not be thrown away… For indeed, vengeance is mine!

The Filmmaker

Following the masters of Japanese cinema (Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Kenji Mizoguchi, Akira Kurosawa), a new generation of filmmakers emerged in the postwar years of the 1950s and 60s. Like the French filmmakers of the 1960s, this "New Wave" was marked by a unique mix. Though different then his contemporaries and certainly his previous generation, Shohei Imamura was the definitive filmmaker of this new era. Imamura started working as an assistant director for Ozu. Though he did not enjoy working for the director and certainly contrasted his own filmmaking preferences, Imamura would later admit that he learned a great deal about filmmaking while working under. Imamura (unlike many of those before and during his time) was a filmmaker that did not belong in a specific genre. His films ranged in tone and style, often mixing documentary and fiction. The focus is always on a social concern with a modernized Japanese society. He captured a social conflict between modernization and cultural perceptions. He boldly did so with a sexuality and frenetic energy that strayed from the traditional Japanese films and filmmakers. While he did earn respect and praise in Japan early in his career, Imamura's major international success came with the release of his 1983 film Ballad of Narayama. Based off a Shichiro Fukazawa story, the film definitively contrasted with the previous adaptation directed by Keisuke Kinoshita in 1958. The film won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival, an award Imamura would go on to win twice more (1989's Black Rain and 1997's The Eel). Imamura directed just over 20 features in a career that spanned six decades. His final work was a surreal short segment on 11'09''01 - September 11, a collaboration of eleven directors throughout the world. Many of his films stand as truly great achievements and if there is one thing Imamura mastered it was his ability to both shock and excite the viewer in a way that you admire. I think one of the best decribitions of Imamura as a filmmaker is quoted from the artist himself: "I am interested in the relationship of the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure on which the reality of daily Japanese life supports itself." Imamura died at the age of 79 in the spring of 2006. He truly was one of a kind.

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