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Vengeance Is Mine is a 1979 film from Japan, directed by Shohei Imamura.

It is a loosely Based on a True Story tale of a cold-blooded con artist and Serial Killer. The first time we see Iwao Enokizu (Ken Igawa), he has already been arrested by police and charged with five murders. From there, the story unspools in a series of flashbacks. In the present-day setting (late 1963), Enoziku starts out by brutally murdering two elderly truck drivers and stealing their money. Flashbacks before those flashbacks sketch out Iwao's backstory. His father, Shizuo Inoziku, is a fisherman turned innkeeper and a hardcore Catholic in a country that doesn't have very many Catholics; Iwao pours scorn on his father's piety and hypocrisy. His mother, however, loves Iwao unreservedly, and doesn't seem to care that Iwao is a budding sociopath who was in reform school in his teens and later possibly raped a woman while in the army.

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After Iwao serves a stint in jail for fraud, his parents try to get him to settle down by arranging a marriage. The arranged marriage is canceled when it turns out that Iwao has impregnated his girlfriend, Kazuko. They have a couple of children, but Iwao does not settle down and goes to jail for fraud again. While he's in prison Kazuko reveals that she is really in love with Iwao's father, Shizuo. She tries to seduce him but at the last second he turns away. After getting paroled in late 1963 Iwao comes home and, having correctly sniffed out the sexual tension between his wife and his father, leaves again. He starts his present-day spree of murder and con artistry. Disguising himself as a college professor, he takes up residence at a seedy inn. The manager of the inn, Haru, is a desperate, sad, lonely middle-aged woman who falls for the handsome "professor"—leading to more tragedy.

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Tropes:

  • Anachronic Order: The film bounces around from timeline to timeline. It starts out with Iwao's arrest and interrogation, and then we go back to the start of his kill spree, then we go back to Iwao's interrogation, then we go even further back to his youth, then to his extremely unhealthy marriage, then to his interrogation, then back to the kill spree...
  • Con Man: How Iwao supports himself, when he isn't murdering people and pawning their possessions. In one scene he he impersonates a bail lawyer and cons an old lady out of ¥100,000 bail that she had brought to the courthouse to free her delinquent son.
  • Distant Finale: There's a five-year Time Skip to Shizuo and Kazuko disposing of Iwao's bones after his execution and cremation.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: Iwao's arrival at the Asano Inn is introduced with a 3 1/2 minute tracking shot. The camera shows a cab arriving at the corner, and Iwao getting out. The camera then follows him through a snaking narrow alleyway to the inn, through a courtyard, and into the office where he's greeted by Haru, then up the stairs to a second-floor room and into the room where he and Haru chat. This is to introduce the inn, the main setting for the second half of the movie, and Haru, a crucial character.
  • Evil Feels Good: Not Iwao, who has the lack of affect common to a sociopath and displays little feeling about his murders or swindles. But it's revealed that the reason Haru and her mother Hisano are in such desperate straits is that Hisano murdered a woman right after the war ended and served fifteen years in prison. The motive behind the crime is left vague, but Hisano says she hated the woman she killed, and "I felt unbelievably great after I did it."
  • Face Framed in Shadow: Iwao as he listens to Ideite raping Haru in the next room. In the only instance in the whole movie where he displays empathy for another human being, Iwao grabs a knife, only to be stopped by Haru's mother. They need Ideite's money.
  • Fanservice: Kazuko strips nude, climbs into a hot tub with her father-in-law, and tries to seduce him. He just barely manages to restrain himself. It's framed as quite erotic, as opposed to the disturbing Fan Disservice sex (and rape) in much of the rest of the movie.
  • Fanservice Extra: The floozy that Ideite brings into the inn that flops down naked on a bed. Also Fan Disservice as Ideite is obviously doing this to humiliate his mistress, Haru.
  • Framing Device: Iwao's interrogation by the police. Although this trope might be averted in the sense that Iwao largely refuses to answer questions, and the flashbacks unfold independently of the police questioning.
  • Gainax Ending: Kazuko and Shizuo go to the top of a mountain to dispose of Iwao's ashes. Shizuo takes a bone out of a bucket—unlike some other countries, Japanese crematoria operators evidently don't grind down the remaining bones. In any case, Shizuo takes a bone out of the bucket, and flings it into the air, and the picture freezes. For an instant, it seems like a Freeze-Frame Ending...until the camera cuts back to Kazuko and Shizuo, still in live action, staring in astonishment. They fling another bone, and it freezes in the air. Then another, and another, and another, all freezing in the air instead of falling to earth. Finally a panicked Shizuo flings the whole bucket at once, the bones fly out, they freeze in the air, and it's a Freeze-Frame Ending for real.
  • Gratuitous English: Iwao has a peculiar habit of this, once asking his girlfriend "Where are you going?" in English and saying "thank you" in English to a cabbie.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with Iwao getting arrested and the media frenzy as he's brought into jail. The story is told from there in flashbacks.
  • I Have a Family: After Iwao starts stabbing his second victim, the old man pleads for mercy, saying "My daughter needs me!" It doesn't work.
  • It's All About Me: Hisano killed a woman and went to jail, and as a consequence her daughter Haru has been left running a fleabag quasi-whorehouse, and dependent on the charity of an abusive lover. But Hisano doesn't care; she throws violent fits when Haru won't give her money to gamble at the races, and she allows Ideite to rape her own daughter because she wants Ideite's financial support.
  • Lonely Funeral: Serial killers aren't very popular, so Shizuo and Kazuko are the only people present to dispose of his bones after his execution and cremation.
  • The Mistress: If running a seedy hot sheet hotel weren't depressing enough, Haru doesn't even own the hotel. The mortgage is held by Ideite, a slimy businessman, and Haru is his kept woman.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Iwao is a simple serial killer and con artist; no vengeance is had. His father spitefully notes that Iwao only killed people who were no threat to him and did him no harm.
  • No-Tell Motel: The only difference between the Asano Inn and a whorehouse is that the hookers don't actually live there. But the Asano is well known as a place where you can get a prostitute called to your room. Iwao finds it a convenient hiding place.
  • Roman à Clef: Loosely based on the Real Life story of Akira Nishiguchi, a Real Life con artist who became a fugitive and killed five people in late 1963.
  • Serial Killer: Iwao kills for financial gain instead of for sex. Three of his victims are men. His fourth victim, Haru's mother, obviously knew too much. Why he killed Haru, who loved him unreservedly even after she found out the truth and wanted to run away with him is unclear; even he doesn't know. He seems to have simply been compelled.
  • Short Con: Iwao impersonates a lawyer and bamboozles a credulous mother at the courthouse out of 100,000 yen.
  • The Sociopath: Iwao checks most of the boxes. Behaviorial problems from youth. In and out of prison. Unable to empathize with others. Kills easily and without remorse. In one scene he gets to chatting with an elderly lawyer on the train, and winds up murdering the man just so he can have a place to stay for a while. When Shizuo tells Iwao that Iwao has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, Iwao cackles with laughter and says "It's about time!"
  • Stock Footage: Iwao and Haru go out on a date to the movies and see a newsreel about the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. This is immediately followed by a police newsreel about Iwao, which is how Haru finds out the truth.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension:
    • Shizuo and Kazuko desperately want to have sex with each other, but Shizuo's Catholic guilt and the fact that they're both married (and that she's his daughter-in-law!) stop him. In his last meeting with his son he says that he's buried the "animal impulses" that led him to desire Kazuko.
    • Although it's sort of resolved in a very disturbing scene. A family friend starts to rape Kazuko. She's trying to fight him off, until he reveals that Shizuo gave him the thumbs-up to have sex with her. She then gets into it, orgasmically gasping "Father..." as the man enters her.
  • Villain Protagonist: An unrepentant and monstrous sociopath and serial killer.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: They make life difficult for Iwao; he surreptitiously pulls down one that he sees in a restaurant.

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