Japan Cuts 2011: VENGEANCE CAN WAIT Review

It's been a couple of days since I checked out the Masanori Tominaga-directed oddball comedy Vengeance Can Wait, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. It features a quartet of characters, each of who with wildly varying levels of emotional plausibility in a set of circumstances that move from quirky, to uncomfortable, to straight-out farcical by the end of the movie. The plot appeals as much as it repulses, which can likewise be said for the characters who run the spectrum of unlikeability. But I'm not sure this last point is really a mark against the movie, which doesn't seem to seek sympathy with so much as understanding for the quartet that form the basis of the plot.

That plot involves the very pregnant Azusa (Eiko Koike) moving back to her cramped, modest hometown with her unemployed, staggeringly lazy husband Banjo (Takayuki Yamada, in one of several movies he's appeared in during the fest). Even at several months pregnant, Azusa is still tending bar in the city while Banjo makes token stabs at getting a job. He doesn't try too hard as he often comes home to report that the interviews end when he insults the hiring manager. You get the the feeling that Azusa is trying to make the best of a bad situation but she could really do a lot better. She seems to take the life she lives in stride.

Nothing bothers her so much as finding out who their neighbors are: Nanase (Minami) and Hidenori (Tadanobu Asano). With her large, face-hugging glasses and oversized warmup suit hiding her simple beauty, she's shy and accommodating to an uncomfortable fault. He's a tracksuit wearing grump who limps to and from their shared home with a wheelbarrow. Oh, and she insists on calling him "big brother" although they're not related. They're not having sex, but I hesitate to say that their relationship is non-sexual. But Hidenori blames Nanase for some incident in their shared past and each day promises to exact her revenge--which is happily accepts.

Azusa's reaction to discovering this duo lives nearby is visceral and later violent, culminating in screaming and series of objects thrown through windows, and it's a reminder of Koike's vicious turn in 2003's brutal 2LDK, another movie about troubled women. She becomes a bully to Azusa and wants Banjo to stay away from the of-kilter pair (with good reason, we find out).

By the climax of the movie, each character is pushed out into an extreme of their personality and learn about a series of betrayals and lies that are already half-known. By the end of the movie, the same personalities have nowhere left to go but a hard reset into something new. Where they go from that point, I'm not sure I understand of agree with. I can say that it was unexpected and never dull (like most of the movie), I just can't say I feel it's rooted in any kind of human truth given how out there the characters become over the course of the running time.

I think maybe I should check it out again.

Vengeance Can Wait will be screening as part of Japan Cuts on Thursday, July 21st. You can find out more information about the screening and the fest at the Japan Society site.

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