God, I wanted to rave about this film. Villain, billed as a gritty thriller from Japan, tells us in its plot synopsis that this is about the murder of a young woman and the search for the killer. I disagree completely. Even the genre in which its advertisers have pigeon holed it is incorrect. This is not a thriller – please don’t enter the cinema expecting nerve jangling suspense. What we have here is the potential for a great film – and for the most part, what we are shown is excellent.
So I’ll start with the positives, for when Villain is good, it’s incredible! Villain does not follow the search for the killer at all – it largely follows the killer himself. There are a lot of characters in this movie, and a myriad of sub plots (which, incidentally, isn’t beneficial – but more of that later). It is, as I saw it, a very slow, patient, observant film, which instead of reaching for cheap thrills and jump moments, is actually brave enough to step back and do something which very few films of this kind ever take the time to do: it peers into the misery and loneliness of its central characters, and their disillusionment concerning the immorality of the people around them. There is much cruelty in this film, and sharp prickles of nervousness and fear – but it is not a nasty story.
Undoubtedly the most successful plot line running through the film is, luckily, the one given the most attention: this is the relationship that is formed between Yuichi, our young murderer, and Mitsuyo, a lonely woman who works long hours selling suits and lodges with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Their first meeting is embarrassing and ends horrifically – Yuichi, still consumed by guilt and anger, makes assumptions about Mitsuyo which he will later regret. Mitsuyo is desperate and understanding, and as the film goes on, we begin to understand just how much these two need each other.
Intercut with this is the storyline following the family of the murdered girl. This also is incredibly successful in the way in which it shows the grief of her parents – how they must come to terms with who their daughter really was, how they fight and turn on each other, and finally come to sad realisations, not only about themselves and their child, but about the people around her and them, and the corrosive cynicism and immorality of a new generation. Fair enough, on paper, that might sound a little pretentious, but unlike the majority of trashy whodunits that Hollywood churn out on an almost weekly basis, this is a film with much to say. It is deeply sad, and in many scenes, you can almost feel the director’s sorrow and anger.
Less successful are plots involving Yuichi’s grandmother and how she is cruelly scammed by her ‘doctor’ (this seems like a touch too far on the ‘oh look at what a terrible society we live in’ front), and the ending, although well meaning, is miscalculated. The way in which the director chooses to bring the relationship between Yuichi and Mitsuyo to a close seems like a strange choice – it might have worked, but nothing we have seen has led us to expect it, and as it comes so out of the blue, it is hard to believe in. It is, quite frankly, a bit of a cheat – a wrong footing that casts a somewhat distorted light on all the searing emotional honesty we have seen previous to that.
The film, however good some of the individual parts that make it up may be, is ultimately flawed. Clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, it’s about half an hour too long, and although the cinematography generally is exceptional (there’s an inspired shot in which a flashback begins as the camera zooms into the pupil of a fish eye that willtake the breath away from any film buff), the editing can sometimes be a little choppy. If only they had stuck with the love story at the movie’s centre and the storyline involving the family of the dead girl, keeping the scenes with her father and the immoral young man that his daughter was smitten with, this would undoubtedly be one of the best films of the year. As it stands, Villain is a good film – and despite its flaws, it’s definitely worth the watch. I, for one, liked it very much.
Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, James Martin (October ’11)