Vengeance is Mine—which, if my schedule is to be believed, hits stores today—was a difficult project to wrap my head around, because everyone involved with the design brief seemed to have a slightly different take on the film. Some wanted to focus on the randomness in Imammura’s style, some on the idea of Iwao as a sort of super smooth anti-James Bond protagonist. There was talk of focusing on the police procedural framework, or on Imammura’s “objective,” non-judgmental perspective. And of course, all of these conflicting ideas are present in the film, but very difficult to reconcile into one cover design.
There were also the, frankly, bizarre promotional photos that had been used in many previous posters and ad campaigns for the film—staged shots of Iwao and the numerous female characters in various states of undress—but we all agreed that they didn’t accurately represent the film.
Left to my own devices, I watched the film again, and did a little reading. One thing that stuck in my head was the idea that at the most violent points in the film, the scenes where many modern filmmakers might switch to a “shaky cam” to highlight the disorientation, Imammura’s camera becomes very still and orderly. It’s a prime visual example of the “objective” viewpoint Imammura employs throughout; he doesn’t allow you to identify with Iwao, but neither does he condemn him. By enforcing an ordered perspective on chaotic events, the film makes the violence less visceral but more real. This makes it somehow even more random and less understandable. But obviously, the idea of the camera being still is difficult to convey in print, where everything is necessarily static. So how to represent this idea of order imposed on chaos?
The other ingredient in my thinking was a bit of free association. When watching the film the first time through, I took note of the text that appears onscreen during the investigation scenes. It’s phrased as though it’s a form being filled out (“Suicide or homicide: homicide”), and there’s a slightly surreal quality to how it interacts with the images—for example, there’s an wide aerial shot of a crowd gathering around a yellow truck, and the text overtop reads “Cause of death: Stabbed left side of face, neck, forehead and chest.” All of that got me thinking about a much more extreme example of a similar effect in an untitled short comics story by Kevin Huizenga—recently reprinted in his fantastic book Curses—that takes the text of some adoption paperwork describing the baby’s parents and lays that over seemingly unrelated images of landscape. This got me thinking about comics panel structures, and the imposition of order inherent in a grid structure. (See how it’s all coming together?)
So here’s what I wound up submitting. They might seem somewhat straightforward after all that high-minded interpretive investigation, but well, sometimes you take the long road.
The first one was the clear favorite, but we were initially a little worried that viewers unfamiliar with the film might mistake it for something like a Yakuza film. (There’s something about that suit/sunglasses combo.) The third comp—the more domestic scene—certainly didn’t have that problem, and had a certain sexual connotation to the violence that wasn’t inappropriate to the film, but ultimately, we decided that the image was too confusing and just not compelling enough. And the last option just didn’t quite feel like a cover—a booklet cover, maybe. I tweaked number two for a bit, but ultimately we all decided the first one was immediately compelling enough to work, so we went with that.
All of that overthinking didn’t go to waste, though. Hopefully you can see from the menus and the rest of the packaging that many of those ideas got carried through and helped make the package as a whole really come together. Here's a sampling of the package: