Villain (2010)

悪人 Akunin
Feature Film | Drama | Japan | Japanese | 2h19m
Dir: Lee Sang-il | Scr: Yoshida Shūichi & Lee Sang-il | Novel: Yoshida Shūichi | DP: Kasamatsu Norimichi | Prod: Kawamura Genki | Mus: Hisaishi Jō | Ed: Imai Takeshi | PD: Taneda Yohei | Cast: Tsumabuki Satoshi, Fukatsu Eri, Emoto Akira, Kiki Kirin, Okada Masaki, Mitsushima Hikari
Despite being voted as the best Japanese film of 2010 by the participants of respected film magazine Kinema Junpo’s annual poll and winning a handful of Japanese Academy Awards, Lee’s ambitious melodrama has received scant attention elsewhere. Indeed, when it was given a brief theatrical run here in the UK in August, the film earned rather lukewarm reviews, and as such failed to prick my interest. However, when released recently on DVD, I decided to give it a belated chance. Unfortunately, despite some excellent performances, Lee’s tale of a wanted murderer going on the run with his impossibly understanding new girlfriend found me somewhat disappointingly in accord with said British critics. The storytelling is generally fine, but the odd heavy-handed moment here and there spoils things irreparably, most notably with: a needlessly showy flashback sequence shown through the eye of a dead fish; and a scene in which the film’s anti-hero asks ‘why am I like this?’ before cutting terribly clumsily to a shot of him as a child, showing the moment when he was cruelly abandoned by his mother. Still, the acting really is quite special, with all of the main performances catching the eye, but it is Emoto’s heart-breaking portrayal of the devastated father of the murder victim in a relatively small part that proves to be the pick of the bunch – a performance that even by itself makes the film worthy of at the very least a casual viewing. And Kasamatsu’s suitably grey photography proves another plus point for what is a generally well-crafted film, though Hisaishi’s obtrusive, sentimental score does grate somewhat. Something of a mess, then, but an affecting one, never the less.