Sunday, July 17, 2011

Japan Cuts ’11: Vengeance Can Wait

Odd couple Yamane and Nanase have a peculiar thing for track suits. Their relationship is even more profoundly unhealthy. Something awful happened between them in high school. Kanamori also holds a grudge against her former classmates, so she is less than thrilled to learn they will be neighbors in Masanori Tominaga’s Vengeance Can Wait (trailer here), which screens during the 2011 Japan Cuts New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema now underway at the Japan Society.

Nanase Ogawa clearly has a bad case of arrested development. She is cute though, and exhibits and compulsive need to please, so Azusa Kanamori’s unemployed lay about husband, Banjo Takai, takes an immediate interest in her. While the pregnant Kanamori works behind her upscale bar, he puts the moves on Ogawa using her own neuroses against her. He thinks he is being rather clever, but he has no idea creepy Yamane is watching it all through a loose floor board in the attic.

Based on Yukiko Motoya’s stage play, Vengeance is essentially a revenge drama for ordinary people rather than ronin and yakuza, but the vengeance in question is Yamane’s, not Kanamori’s. Yet, a weird codependency grows between them as they chastely cohabitate as brother and sister, while he tries to concoct a suitable form of retribution. Mostly, Vengeance is about emotional violence (and masochism), but the real thing eventually flares up. By no means is this a horror movie, particularly given the farcical overtones, but you can maybe see one in the far distance from here.

Strangely enough, Vengeance’s more extreme personalities are easier for viewers to relate to, largely due to the conviction of Minami’s work as Ogawa. It is an unsettling performance, more than hinting her character might not be fully there, yet still investing her with genuine vulnerability as well as a sensuality that comes through the intentionally unsexy sweat suits. In almost every respect, Eiko Koike’s Kanamori is her equal but opposite counterpart. Her ferocity is an awesome sight, which is why a late scene of her taking a relatively small bit of abuse makes no sense within the context of the film (it is also uncool in the context of real life, but she wrecks her own havoc shortly thereafter).

Ultimately, Vengeance boils down to the complicated history shared by Ogawa and Yamane. If you can buy into it, the film delivers a surprisingly heavy payoff. Without a doubt, it also offers one of the more unusual cinematic depictions of the working class (in Japan or anywhere else) that is a world away from the austere realism of Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s Sketches of Kaitan City, but together they present quite a spectrum of Japanese cinema. Recommended for Minami and Koike’s bold performances, Vengeance screens this Thursday (7/21) as the indispensible Japan Cuts continues its 2011 run at the Japan Society.