Previously at the ICA - Films
13 Aug 2011
Winner of 5 Japanese Academy awards, Villain, ostensibly a crime film, and a thrilling one at that, transcends its genre trappings. Adapted from the critically acclaimed novel of the same name, Villain is located somewhere between the elegiac doomed young lovers on-the-run of Nicholas Ray's classic 50s noir They Live By Night and the excoriating social commentary of Shohei Imamura (Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman).
Carefully laying out it's themes of class, sex and alienation, all filtered through the seething passions of generation at once thrown together and pulled apart by the faux-intimacy of the internet. A young working-class loner, Shimizu, who lives with his grandmother, is accused of the murder of a girl he has met online. In a moment of profound humiliation Shimizu goes to a place deep inside himself he never even knew existed. As the consequences of his actions bear down on him, Shimizu quickly finds his social background makes it almost impossible for him to be anything other than the demonised murderer the press and police both portray him to be.
Just when we think we're dealing with a straight forward thriller, the story takes a sharp left turn and plunges us into a much more ambiguous space where good and evil seem to slowly merge, reflect each other, and then swap as the film gradually upends all our preconceptions. Yet Shimizu is given a temporary oasis from the implacable march of fate in the form of Mitsuyo, a young naive woman who, unaware of his notoriety, falls in love with him. Convinced that despite his dysfunctional behaviour, where everything, including their own sex, is commodified and stripped of emotion, Mitsuyo believes they can find a way to be together. At lunch with her in a twee tourist trap Shimizu blurts out his terrible secret. As her illusions about Shimizu's character are shattered, she chooses to replace these with a delusional conviction that somehow their love can transcend the situation and remove them from the normal constraints of society.
Villain is a sinewy twisting journey behind the curtain of Big Society thinking - and what it reveals is at once disturbing and moving in equal measure.
Dir: Lee Sang-il, Japan 2010, 139 mins, subtitled, cert 15
Cast: Eri Fukatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Akira Emoto