Vengeance Is Mine (1979)

Directed by Shohei Imamura

A thief, a murderer, and a charming lady-killer, Iwao Enokizu is on the run from the police.

Not exactly a Crime and Punishment in its investigation on why people might perform evil deeds, but a film that sits uneasily between established genres in the same way that the serial murderer himself defies easy categorisation. There's even a minute where we think it will become Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but that's quickly, err, extinguished.

I think we're meant to see Ozu's The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952) and Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952) with the pachinko machine reference, and I couldn't help but recall Kurosawa's High and Low (1963) at times as well, not least when we see the visiting room of the prisoner (!) but also with the police identification photos and the train ride. Anyway, the bones frozen in mid-air at the end caught me completely unawares, although I suppose there were some earlier hints at some variation of magical realism.

ps. It wouldn't be a Roger Ebert essay about a non-American film without some eyebrow-raising cultural statement. Here, we have "I was reminded of the Japanese fascination with death…" as if no other way of life, even one that Ebert himself would consider 'mainstream', has is interested in questions of mortality. Hadn't he even heard of Día de los Muertos…?