We like killers. Not your run-of-the-mill murderer thugs or violence-prone thieves who kill for profit, but the inverted psyche of serial killers is a fascinating subject. They hold the fascination of a predator species, like the great white shark or the alligator, dangerous and somehow cool. We don't want to meet them, and hope to god that they never walk though our door, but from the safety of a screen it is a thrill to flirt with their danger and ride along with them for a little while down a truly dark path. Especially in the hands of a master director like Shohei Imamura.
"Vengeance is Mine" ("Fukushu suruwa wareniari") is Imamura's take on Japanese serial killer and fraudster Akira Nishiguchi who went on a 78-day killing spree in 1964, claiming the lives of five people before being captured. Re-named to Iwao Enokizu in the film, he is a cold and reptilian character, able to lie and murder without any apparent shadow of a conscious, only taking the actions that advance his needs at any given moment. A rare Catholic in Japan, Iwao is an outsider, but not a loner, and he keeps companions for as long as he needs them.
Considering the source material, Imamura maintains an almost documentary-like feel throughout the film, as emotionless and reptilian as the killer himself. This is not the "serial killer as hero" motif of "Natural Born Killers", or even an attempt to explain and empathize as in "Monster". The camera takes no opinions, offers no point of view other than "These things happen", "This is life, and these things happen". The beast that is Iwao seems to take neither pleasure nor pain, just sensation, from his activities. He plays his game without passion, and that makes it all the more chilling.
The Criterion Collection DVD maintains the usual high standards expected, with two interviews with Imamura, and an essay by critic Michael Atkinson. The picture and sound are all of the best quality, and the film is pure 5-star Imamura.