Monday, June 04, 2007

"Vengeance is Mine"

Easily the greatest serial killer movie I have ever seen, Shohei Imamura's "Vengeance is Mine" (1979) is more than a dark film, it's a film of true, physical violence. By that I mean that after seeing the film I felt it, physically, in my heart and my bones. The only film that I have ever seen to which I can compare "Vengeance is Mine" is "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." "Vengeance" follows a Japanese loner as he embarks on a senseless killing spree over the course of several months. Based on true events, it's like watching "Natural Born Killers" on peyote. I literally cowered throughout this entire harrowing two-hour trip. For the lead character, a sexual predator and sociopath, it isn't so much that there is a reason to kill people - there's just no reason NOT to kill people. In the case of a film like "Natural Born Killers," the violence has a kind of rock and roll sexiness to it that's just American, scummy, and deplorable. In "Vengeance," the killings are anything but climactic, anything but cathartic. They're cold, empty acts. When the lead character kills a truck driver at the onset of his rampage, he does so with a tiny knife, stabbing the man dozens of times in a wind-blown field overlooking the city. He gets frustrated with seeing the man struggling, so he covers the fellow in a yellow tarp and continues stabbing him. It's a difficult two minutes to sit through.

This is a movie that doesn't wash off. It's not compelling, it's not "gripping" or any of those other terms. It presents senseless murder through the eyes of a sociopath in a cold, detached way - the camera itself is a sociopath, it seems to have no opinion whatsoever, no emotions, nothing to say about what is unfolding. I think the film should be seen because of all of these things. We live in a world where the serial killer is pretty much a hero in most films - usually the sexiest character. In films like "The Silence of the Lambs," we have characters like Hannibal Lecter, who is obviously designed to be enjoyed by the viewer. He's cultured and dynamic and fun to listen to. In limp Hollywood backwash like "Mr. Brooks," we get ice-cold serial killers on rooftops, being circled by swooping cameras and playing fun cat-and-mouse games with the police.

In "Vengeance is Mine," all of that is stripped away and we get to see killing for what it is. Waste, horror, a void. I loved this film not because it was pleasant to watch, but because it was so unpleasant to watch.

Here's a great resource on Shohei Imamura, for anyone interested.


Blogger Sammy said...

it's on my netflix!

7:24 AM  

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