18 December 2011 | CountZero313
shades of grey
Villain lost out at the 2011 Japan Academy Awards on the big prizes to Confessions. While Directing, Script and Best Picture went the way of the bleak, hyper-stylised Takako Matsu flick, all four acting awards were scooped by Villain. The reason for that split is abundantly clear.
Villain centres on lonely Yuichi who drives through the night and occasionally meets women through online dating sites. The forum for their meeting suggests each is as flawed as the other. When one assignation goes very badly indeed, something dark in Yuichi is unleashed. He then gets a message from another female via the site, and so two life-changing events take place within seconds of each other.
Villain explores complex questions of moral responsibility, the hypocrisy of social condemnation, and the extent of individual responsibility. The direction is workmanlike, and the framing rarely gets beyond a TV aesthetic. But the script is naturalistic and offers genuine insight, peaking in the father of the victim (Akira Emoto) revealing that hateful people are the way they are because they are too cowardly to risk caring for someone. Emoto and Kirin Kiki excel as the elder generation struggling to come to terms with the ugly turn the world has taken. Krini Kiki, faced with extortion, goes from bewilderment to fear to resignation all by changes of expression and never a word spoken. But it is the two young leads, Eri Fukatsu and Satoshi Tsumabuki, who truly excel here. Fukatsu especially shows a young woman capable of living with the emptiness inside her, until meeting someone who can fill it proves too much to bear. The cathartic peak of the film is her scene of self-awareness. Tsumabaki also gets to test his range at the end, but in a much more chilling and wonderfully ambiguous direction.
There are good guys and bad guys here, as you'd expect given the content, but they are not where you expect to find them. There is a murderer, but we are less convinced of our stance towards him than we are to the press-pack parasites, conman doctor, self-absorbed mother, and shallow and narcissistic university undergrad. A bus driver strangely earns our cheers, and is perhaps the only unambiguous 'good' character in the film. In a time where heinous crimes have become everyday and our ability to relate with one another seems fragmented and brutalised, the causes may not always be where the lazy self-appointed moral guardians in the media and corridors of power suggest they lie.
Villain is a slow build to its message, a slightly meandering survey of its theme, and the pacing can frustrate over the flabby 139 minutes. But it is worth sticking with for the questions it forces you to reflect on at the end, and the consummate acting. One of the best films to come out of Japan this century.