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Cinema Japan: A Wreath for Madame Kawakita

Friday, November 14, 2008
8:35 p.m. Vengeance Is Mine
Shohei Imamura (Japan, 1979)

(Fukushu-suru wa ware ni ari). Famous for the controversial subject matter and raw energy of his films, Shohei Imamura forges the true case of Japan’s “King of Criminals,” who seduced and murdered his way through the autumn of 1963, into a brilliant examination of anomie and the unregenerate criminal mind. Imamura takes a tack opposite to the killer Enokizu’s: the film first repels with the graphic force of its gruesome premise, then seduces and holds the viewer with the sheer mystery of the filmmaking. Ken Ogata plays the killer in Clark Kent glasses—the uneducated son of Catholic innkeepers, raised amid the aggressive humiliations of prewar militarism—who poses now as a university professor, now as a lawyer, to insinuate himself into others’ beds and lives with intentions of murder. Starting out in Dragnet-noir style, Imamura’s searching camera proceeds to investigate its subject—Enokizu’s dissociation—in a pastiche in which the past runs like a train through the present. Motivation, like narrative, is not linear.

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Masaru Baba, from the novel by Ryuzo Saki. Photographed by Shinsaku Himeda. With Ken Ogata, Rentaro Mikuni, Mitsuko Baisho, Mayumi Ogawa. (140 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, Permission Janus Films/Criterion Collection)