Vengeance is Mine
A thief, a murderer, and a charming lady-killer, Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is on the run from the police. Director Shohei Imamura turns this fact-based story—about the seventy-eight-day killing spree of a remorseless man from a devoutly Catholic family—into a cold, perverse, and at times diabolically funny examination of the primitive coexisting with the modern. More than just a true-crime tale, Vengeance Is Mine bares humanity’s snarling id.
Criterion upgrades their DVD edition of Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mind to Blu-ray, presenting the film in 1080p/24 on a dual-layer disc. Criterion again presents the film in the aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and not 1.85:1, the ratio it was presented in on the UK Masters of Cinema releases. I can’t speak as to which one is correct, though have never had an issue with the ratio Criterion provides.
It does appear Criterion has used the exact same high-definition transfer that was the basis for the DVD’s transfer, and it doesn’t look like much, if any, further work has been done to it since. Detail levels are fairly decent and the image is sharp, but the finer textures barely register and look a bit flat. Colours, which are more natural looking in comparison to the MoC disc, still lend the film a gritty look and are saturated decently enough yet never pop. Black levels are on and off throughout: while fairly inky I felt they were crushing out some background details in darker sequences.
Bits of debris appear here and there but the restoration work has been fairly thorough, but I can’t say this looks any better than the DVD. The digital transfer itself does look better than the DVD’s, which suffers from the format’s usual problems with compression, and it offers a cleaner presentation in comparison but I can’t say the differences are striking. Though the Blu-ray delivers a cleaner, more natural look to the film the transfer itself looks a bit dated, with some faint fuzziness and film grain that isn’t as cleanly rendered as it probably could be. In other words the grain can look more like noise than grain. The issues are minor, though, and the transfer ultimately comes out as a satisfying one.
The lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track is more a product of its time, lacking much in the way of range and fidelity. But it is clean, sounding free of damage and background noise.
Criterion’s DVD was pretty barebones, only containing a 10-minute excerpt from an interview with Shohei Imamura and a couple of trailers (all included here) but Criterion manages to add one significant feature that was not on their original DVD: a 2005 audio commentary featuring film critic Tony Rayns that was recorded originally for the UK Masters of Cinema DVD edition for the film. It’s a very thorough, well researched track focusing more on Imamura’s career and films overall, with some details about the actors that appear in the film and comments on the film itself, including its true-crime origin, the novel on which it’s based, and Imamura’s style throughout. Though admittedly the insights into the film itself weren’t always illuminating, Rayns offers a fairly comprehensive overview of the filmmaker, great for those new to the director.
And as mentioned before Criterion carries over the 10-minute interview with Imamura about the film, taken from a longer session recorded in 1999. In it the director talks about the adaptation of the novel, the actual crime, and more. He also offers nothing but praise for his actors, who made this experience far more pleasing in comparison to his previous film, Profound Desires of the Gods. According to him that film was a horrible, horrible experience because of who he worked with while making that film. Enjoyable enough but short, and it would have been nice to include more material.
Like the DVD the disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and its teaser trailer.
Criterion also ports over the booklet’s content and everything looks to be here. It’s bookended by two pieces by Imamura himself, the opener being a press not about the film by the director, and then the closer a reflection by Imamura on his style of filmmaking (which he calls “workmanlike”). Michael Atkinson provides a nice essay on the film and its themes followed by a reprint of a 1994 interview with the director, where he goes over his career as whole, touching on a number of his films including Vengeance is Mine and a nice little section on A Man Vanishes, as well as his work with the studios in Japan (I’ll take a second here to plug the Masters of Cinema DVD for A Man Vanishes, which is an all-region NTSC release.) The back cover of the booklet also features a map recounting Iwao Enokizu’s run from authorities across Japan. The booklet ends up nicely rounding out the release.
Still not packed but the addition of the packed commentary by Rayns adds some incredible value to this release.
Criterion offers a nice upgrade over their previous DVD. The transfer’s upgrade may not be as significant as I would have expected but it still looks nice, and does improve over the DVD's standard-definition presentation, if only in the basic ways a Blu-ray would. The supplements feel more thorough here with the addition of the Rayns commentary.