A eenager is murdered, but who did it? The popular bully that Yoshino has a crush on or the loner weirdo she meets on a dating site? VILLAIN is gripping, beautiful, long… and the world never stops raining.
Super Heavy Elements: A review of Villain by Lee Sang- Il
Walking out of the cinema with my fellow viewer, he looked at his watch and observed: “there’s a lot of rain and crying in that film.”
In the queue for the toilets, the opinions were the same; It cant help the local Tourist Board can it? All that rain… Some might suggest that despite the lack of geishas, manga chicks and samurai, Lee Sang-Il is following a grand old tradition by insisting that every scene is waterlogged. This is mood landscape at its finest; sun shining on the sea equals hope, the arrival of trouble is presaged by thunder, and woeful life is rain, rain rain. When Joe Wright attempted this in Pride and Prejudice (the 2005 version with Keira Knightley) the result was a love story filmed by the met office. Lee Sang-Il is more subtle, but make no mistake, Villain is a world of wet metaphors. Take your wellies.
The basic premise is familiar: Pretty girl Yoshino is murdered. Was it a) the Michael Jackson lookalike she was hitting on so desperately, or b) the weirdo loner she met on a dating site? Matsuo the Michael Jackson lookalike is a bully surrounded by endlessly applauding friends, while Yuichi the weirdo loner spends life in his car or looking after elderly relatives. Weirdo loner meets other girl, Mitsuyo, they fall in love, and eventually run while the world dissolves around them, investigators give chase and the young lovers’ families face the consequences.
And of course, a twist or two awaits…
There is something reminiscent of American Beauty about this film: secrets within secrets, layers of feeling. Unlike the 1999 blockbuster, theres no sense of lifes dream being a letdown; there just isnt much of a life or a dream. Downtown is downtown everywhere and the Styx is still dead. The strange hunger of being human is nuanced with great beauty throughout in Villain, but special mention must go to the luminous Eri Fukatsu as Mitsuyo, and Kirin Kikis poignant portrayal as Yuichi’s grandmother. Its no fluke that four out of the five Japanese Academy Awards won by Villain are for the acting. The entire cast shines.
Trouble is, Villain is less than the sum of its parts. Real intensity takes time to build and theres a lot of intensity here. The result is a good film which, honed and lopped by 20 minutes, could have been a great film. For all my impatience, I would watch it again, there is no denying the film’s haunting quality. But if you are going to give Villain your attention, bring your munchies with you and settle in for the night. Theres no candyfloss from here to Nagasaki, and it’s still raining outside.