Villain (2010, Sang-il Lee)
Nominated for 15 Japanese Academy Awards and winning 5 of them, Villain is a mix of
romantic and thriller elements encapsulated into a somber drama piece. Adapted from
Shuichi Yoshida’s novel, Villain tells the story of Yuichi Shimizu (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a
young man who takes care of his grandparents in a remote fishing village in Nagasaki.
A recluse and frequent user of dating sites, he is searching for love. However, he’s soon
caught up in the fatal drama of one of his former “relationships”, to which the victim’s parents vow to find those responsible. In an attempt to escape the turmoil, he falls for fellow loner Mitsuyo as the two embark on a journey of “enlightenment” and romantic understanding whilst avoiding the authorities.
Villain was awarded Best Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Supporting Actor and
Supporting Actress at the 34th Japanese Academy Awards, and fully deserves its
acclamation. In particular, leading lady Eri Fukatsu puts in a fantastic performance as Mitsuyo, Yuichi’s new love interest. There’s a charm and sympathetic understanding towards her lonesome character and her desperate attempts to decipher Yuichi and form a relationship. The older generations of Akira Emoto and Kirin Kiki create the solidity of the picture, and prove paramount to providing originality and intrigue to a rather cliché story. Emoto’s portrayal of a grieving father is magnificent as he attempts to retain stability and rationality to his life. Meanwhile, Kiki’s character’s plunge into the media spotlight over her grandson Yuichi, and her subsequently overwhelming guilt, is perfectly shown in her confused and despondent self. It’s a truly amazing performance. Joe Hisaishi’s award-winning score, while not as prominent as his work with Studio Ghibli or Takeshi Kitano, compliments the meandering emotional tones of the film and the gorgeous cinematography. The winter imagery and rural remoteness distinctly contrasts with the usual cityscapes and
claustrophobic spaces of Japanese cinema.
While the majority of the acting is superb, lead actor Satoshi Tsumabuki’s silent
treatment for most of the film questions the quality of his competition at the awards. His
generic portrayal of a troubled young man never protrudes from his sullen posture and
tame screen presence, paling in comparison to the periphery characters. However, Villain’s
true problem lies in a narrative that feels slightly too conventional, and isn’t helped by its
tremendously slow pacing and overly long screen-time. It tries and mildly succeeds to be a detailed study of humanity and the ‘human condition’, questioning our interpretations
and morality towards the concepts of a “villain”, but becomes far too bogged down in
contrived sentimentality and melancholia. Director Sang-il Lee’s stylistic choices are also
questionable. While flashbacks and slow motion are all well and good, his overuse of
these cinematic tropes becomes tired and unnecessary in a film that could be 30 minutes
The usual additions are here. An hour long ‘Making Of’ in Japanese (with
subtitles) that explores the various crew and talent involved. A hilariously Japanese
inclusion is an informal chat at a restaurant between Satoshi Tsumabuki and Director
Sang-il Lee. They laugh about the film, drink and eat hotpot while a narrator basically
explains the film’s plot and the actors’ background. It’s clearly from a Japanese TV
featurette on the film, but is pretty enjoyable.