乱暴と待機 (Ranbou to Taiki)
Running time: 97 min.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
The ties that bind. What are these ties that hold relationships together? Some relationships are bound by sex, some by finances, and some by desirable social status. There are obligations to friends, family, children. Oh, and of course there is the ideal glue of any relationship -- love. But in the case of Nanase (Minami) and Yamane (Tadanobu Asano) the thing that binds their relationship together is revenge. You see,, the couple live in a poor suburb together as brother and sister, both sleeping in bunk beds. While Yamane lays in the top bunk dreaming of ways to get revenge on his partner, "sister", Nanase lays in the bottom bunk, meekly, even excitedly anticipating her just desserts. What exactly did Nanase do to have her boyfriend... we mean "brother"... declare an oath of vengeance against her? For most of the running time of Masanori Tominaga's black comedy "Vengeance Can Wait" we don't know (and for the purposes of this review I won't reveal the cause). All we do know is that Nanase and Yamane have secrets, and these secrets end up entangling another young couple -- Azusa (Eiko Koike) and Banjo (Takayuki Yamada). This other couple, bound for their own reasons of shaky finances and Azusa's pregnancy, move into the same rundown block of buildings, and we soon learn that they, or at least Azusa and Nanase and Yamane, share in this mysterious past. Soon Azusa is swearing her own vengeance against mousy Nanase while her unemployed husband Banjo becomes romantically involved with her. Quite the complicated mess, but one that is pulled off wonderfully by "The Pavillion Salamandre" and "Pandora's Box" director Tominaga.
Based on a play by playwright and stage director Yukiko Motoya, "Vengeance Can Wait" takes four people and inflates their petty and tragic past to the level of high comedy... or tragedy as the case may be. These two couples are always jockeying around each other, conversely hiding their true feelings and motivations or cruelly taking them out on each other, lampooning the tatemae (facade) and honne (true feelings) dichotomy of Japanese society. Nanase adopts a shrill cheeriness and is always hyper aware of not offending or troubling those around her. She even wears an over-sized track suit and glasses so as not to distract men around her by her obvious beauty. This strategy backfires when it comes to Banjo, who sees past Nanase's pathologically nervous and nerdy exterior and becomes infatuated with the woman beneath. Banjo comes from a household full of veiled hostility. Azusa, pregnant with Banjo's child, works long hours as a bar hostess while he spends his days unemployed, and what's worse, flubbing one job interview after another. These major issues remain unaddressed though, in fact all of Azusa's pent up anger gets vented on Nanase for her past and present transgressions with Azusa's boyfriends. The most convoluted and repressed of the bunch has to be Yamane, though. Working as a deliveryman he spends his off hours isolating himself by taping songs off the radio. Then there is his habit of going running, which is actually a lie. Instead of running he crawls into the attic of his house and spies, Edogawa Rampo-style, on the conflicts between Nanase, Banjo and Azusa.
Director Masanori Tominaga does an admirable job adapting Motoya's play to the screen, coating the cruelties of his characters with quirky humour. He's the right director for this kind of project. First appearing on the scene with his 2006 comedy "The Pavillion Salamandre", he would eventually leaven his zanier tendencies with the Osamu Dazai adaptation "Pandora's Box". "Vengeance Can Wait" is the perfect mix between these two films -- quirky enough for us to forgive the characters of their unpleasantness, but also playing it straight at times to make us squirm a little. Despite scenes of Azusa crashing bicycles through Nanase's plate-glass door and squeezing lemon into Yamane's eyes, and the uncomfortable couplings between Banjo and Nanase "Vengeance Can Wait" is till an easier cinematic ride than the other Yukiko Motoya adaptation we've been treated to in recent years -- 2007's "Funuke Show Me Some Love, You Losers!" directed by Daihachi Yoshida. In that film people's feelings and the ties that bind a family together are snapped, snipped and generally ravaged by its sociopathic anti-heroine. With "Vengeance Can Wait" the very things that would normally tear relationships apart end up being the things that keep them together.
If your sensibilities are too delicate for people behaving badly towards each other you might have a problem with the lives of Nanase, Yamane, Azusa and Banjo; but if you don't mind a screwball comedy with a little mystery and some very sharp fangs then "Vengeance Can Wait" is a perfect entertainment. With perfect comic timing from it's stars and director Tominaga balancing the mood the film is elevated from Jerry Springer-esque incestuous theatre to a clever satire of Japanese manners that can be enjoyed again and again.