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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Vengeance Is Mine: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Vengeance Is Mine: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // August 26, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted August 26, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Based on the exploits of Japanese serial killer Akira Nishiguchi---and, in turn, Ryuzo Saki's award-winning novel of the same name---Shohei Imamura's Vengeance is Mine remains a surprising but measured account of a rebellious, violent man's final years. Ken Ogata anchors the film as Isao Enokizu, our central character now in police custody after a massive, months-long manhunt. He's cocky and uncooperative, though his account of every misdeed is eventually told via flashback and, in turn, fragmented by glimpses of his turbulent childhood and the relationship with a father he never respected. During the course of this 140-minute production, Enokizu keeps us at arm's length and director Imamura, in a similar fashion, doesn't feel the need to gift-wrap anything for us either. In both cases, the gesture is appreciated.

Without question, Enokizu is a horrible man deserving of his fate...but if Vengeance is Mine has one clear message, it's that none of us are truly innocent. Still, it's hard to compete with Enokizu's horrifying tally: theft, deception, fraud, and multiple murders, and most of this is during a spree that lasts a little over two months across the country. There are obvious signs of trouble brewing earlier in Enokizu's life, from a strained relationship with his devoutly Catholic father (Rentaro Mikuni) to the theft of an Army jeep during WWII. His father admits that he's always been a confrontational son...and, as many a "PK" can tell you, one of the worst catalysts for a rebellious mind is a stringent, restricted environment. Even so, the film's unorthodox focus on this anti-hero remains one of its most memorable elements: this is the polar opposite of a classic police procedural and, although not completely one-sided, exhibits a balance wildly in favor of the criminal's skewed perspective. It's a dangerous path, but Vengeance is Mine tends to walk it carefully.

Vengeance is Mine was the first of three collaborations between Ogata and Imamura, who later worked together on a 1983 remake of Keisuke Kinoshita's The Ballad of Narayama and 1987's Zegen. Ogata's central performances carries Vengeance is Mine almost single-handedly: even at his worst, he's magnetic as our troubled anti-hero. Luckily, there's more than enough support to bolster his performance, not the least of which is the film's fractured format. First-time viewers may have trouble adjusting to the film's non-linear narrative, especially once Enokizu's childhood is explored. Thankfully, such transitions aren't overly distracting, especially on subsequent viewings...so even if Vengeance is Mine doesn't completely grab you the first time through, more appealing layers might be more evident the next time around.

Criterion's original 2007 DVD offered only the bare minimum of supplements for Vengeance is Mine, including a short but interesting 1999 interview segment with the director, as well as the original teaser and trailer. Seven years later, Criterion's new Blu-ray adds a 2005 audio commentary recorded for Eureka's Region 2 DVD...and, of course, the A/V presentation gets an expected boost in quality. Though I'd imagine that die-hard fans and interested newcomers alike will want to seek this version out, slightly less enthusiastic viewers can probably hold onto their DVDs for a while.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Not surprisingly, Vengeance is Mine's atmosphere is rendered nicely on this crisp, dependable 2K transfer (which was apparently sourced from a new remaster of the film). Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Sinsaku Himeda's striking visuals retain excellent detail with occasionally strong textures, a healthy amount of film grain, and deep black levels. The framing is excellent, even though Vengeance rarely seems to aim for gratuitous compositions. It's important to remember that this film looks very much like a product of its time and, without question, those familiar with 1970s cinema should know exactly what they're getting. Colors are warmer than expected but not to the point of distraction. Simply put, it easily beats Criterion's 2007 DVD and, if nothing else, will satisfy long-time fans and impress newcomers.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

Also impressive is the film's audio, presented here in uncompressed Japanese LPCM mono; though obviously lacking in presence compared to more modern films, Vengeance is Mine still gets its point across on this one-channel track. Dialogue, effects, and Shinichiro Ikebe's music cues are crisply recorded and sound great, while the only occasional limitations are undoubtedly source material issues. Overall, it sounds great and I doubt any fans will be disappointed with Criterion's efforts. Optional English subtitles are presented during the film and extras for translation purposes only.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

As usual, Criterion's menu interface is smooth and easy to navigate on both formats. This one-disc release is locked for Region A/1 players only; it's packaged in the studio's trademark "stocky" keepcase with a sturdy hub and attractive two-sided artwork. The included Booklet features an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson, a 1994 interview with Imamura by filmmaker Toichi Nakata, and writings by Imamura on Vengeance is Mine and his approach to directing.

Bonus Features

Everything from Criterion's 2007 DVD, plus a 2005 Audio Commentary recorded for Eureka's Region 2 DVD. Featuring film critic Tony Rayns, this informative track covers a wide variety of topics including the real-world case's factual history, Imamura's beginnings and later career, Sinsaku Himeda's cinematography, recurring themes like the turbulent father-son relationship and religion, the film's reception, advice for young filmmakers, and much more. Just for the record, the recycled supplements include a 1999 Interview excerpt with director Shohei Imamura, plus the film's original Teaser and Theatrical Trailer. Like the main feature, optional English subtitles have been included for translation purposes only.

Final Thoughts

Vengeance is Mine is a polarizing film from one of cinema's greatest decades, but only because of the horrific historical events it's based on. This is a mature effort by Imamura that, on many occasions, is peppered with enough pitch-black humor to create a less...gratuitous experience than some might expect. Anchored by Ken Ogata's central performance and a fractured, unpredictable format, first-time and less seasoned viewers will find much to enjoy (or at least admire) here. Criterion's new Blu-ray easily beats their 2007 DVD in every department, though less enthusiastic fans may be happy enough to avoid an immediate upgrade. Either way, this is fine treatment of an interesting film...and for that alone, Vengeance is Mine is worth looking into. Recommended, although a rental may be enough for some.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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