Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima) is lying to her friends, her parents, and herself, and if she’s not careful it just might get her kil– wait, scratch that. Too late. Her friends and family believe she’s dating and in love with the flashy and wealthy Masuo (Masaki Okada), but that’s not the truth. He barely tolerates her pushy and trashy ways but puts up with her strictly for the sex. The other man in her life is Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a guy she met online who pays her for sex even as he begins to develop feelings for her. She cancels her plans with Yuichi one night after convincing Masuo to hang out instead, and as the couple drives away a frustrated and angry Yuichi speeds after them.
The next day Yoshino is found dead at the bottom of a ravine.
What follows is part murder mystery, part love story, and part exploration into the hearts and minds of those left behind. Two men become suspects. A father and a grandmother begin to crumble beneath the weight of crushing guilt. And an impossible romance grows for a couple with little chance of seeing it blossom. Identifying the villain and victim amidst the emotional chaos is never as simple as it seems.
“You can’t do evil and get away with it.”
Villain is a film with multiple story threads cut from that same bloody cloth. The search for Yoshino’s killer is quickly narrowed down to Masuo and Yuichi, but even when the truth is revealed halfway through the film both men face ongoing repercussions. Masuo hides in plain sight while Yuichi embarks on a new relationship with a shy, fragile girl named Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu). Yoshino’s parents blame themselves before turning their rage outward, and Yuichi’s grandmother finds her delicate life crumbling beneath guilt, media pressures and other hardships.
Some of these characters are connected by blood, spilt and otherwise, and others live in complete ignorance of each other, but all of them are connected through the emotional and physical devastation caused by the murder. The world they inhabit is our own, filled with good and evil, beauty and ugliness, and the film captures both with equal skill.
The film has a definite narrative, but it’s more of a character piece than a traditional story. Each one of them tells an engaging story of loss whether it be of a loved one, of innocence, of an ideal, or even of self satisfaction. And behind each character is a strongly affecting performance. Tsumabuki has perhaps the most difficult role as Yuichi is a young man with a sad past and a bleak future. We see him watching a video on his phone of Yoshino posing in her underwear, and his lascivious grin is enough to mark him as a creep. But as his past comes to the surface we’re also witness to a young man clinging to hope like a life preserver in the middle of the ocean. His situation is the definition of tragic, and it paints his culpability with an uncertain brush.
Most impressive though are the film’s two elders. Yoshino’s father (Akira Emoto) balances precariously and constantly between anger and grief, and a scene where he comes face to face with his dead daughter is beautifully shot and acted. The film’s triumph though is the performance of Kirin Kiki as Yuichi’s grandmother who’s raised him since childhood. Shades of Hye-ja Kim’s incredible performance from Joon-ho Bong’s Mother emanate here in a much smaller role as she’s faced by accusations and scorn from those around her and debilitated by guilt. But it’s a single act of kindness towards her from a random bus driver and her subsequent expression and response that will leave your heart aching for days.
Villain poses several questions to viewers not the least of which is a challenge to identify who the real villains and victims are in the story. The crime itself is not in doubt for long leaving both the murderer and murdered visible for all to see, but the question remains. As the characters’ lives are opened further it becomes clear that even a killer may deserve our sympathy. That not all victims are dead and buried. That love and second chances are just as real as cruelty and indifference. It’s a love story, albeit an unconventional one, that refuses to criticize the things we do to stop feeling lonely.
The Upside: Engaging and emotionally suspenseful drama; strong acting from all but especially from Kirin Kiki; narrative challenges viewers with their own definition of ‘villain’ and ‘victim’
The Downside: Runs a little too long; side characters/storylines are actually more interesting than the two leads
Villain is currently playing in UK theaters from Third Window Films.