Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a socially awkward guy who meets girls using a dating service. One girl who responds to his messages and meets up with him is the pretty and enthusiastic Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima). She’s really more interested in the more ‘cool’ Masuo (Masaki Okada) though, a privileged guy with excessively high self esteem.
When Yoshino turns up dead, both are put in the frame for the murder but as it is very obvious from early on Yuichi is the main suspect. Going on the run with another girl he meets through the dating service, Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu), Yuichi tries to make an emotional connection and after confessing to her about the death of Yoshino, the two grow closer. This forms the basis of the plot of Villain but the plot spreads outwards from here, especially in its focus on the emotional mess left following the death of Yoshino and the departure of Yuichi from his home.
Whilst Yuichi’s guilt as the murderer is only really in doubt for minutes the blame rested upon him is a little fuzzier and Lee Sang-il, adapting from the bestselling and now English translated book by Shuichi Yoshida, seems to relish consuming the film in moral ambiguity and problematic characterisation.
The characters are really at the heart of what makes Villain such a compelling film to watch too. In addition to the complicated but fascinating relationship between Yuichi and Mitsuyo, the film also focuses on Yuichi’s grandmother (Kirin Kiki) and Yoshino’s father (Akira Emoto), who pursues Masuo in the belief that he is in part responsible for his Yoshino’s death. In adding further shading to the surrounding characters there is admittedly less room to develop Yuichi and Mitsuyo’s relationship but as a result of this the ambiguity in their motivations provides something interesting to chew on as the credits roll. In fact, the last few scenes are particularly open to interpenetration and all the more fascinating as a result.
Lee Sang-il’s direction is assured and competent but he does veer too much between being too sparse on one end and over egging the pudding on the other. The invasive, albeit beautiful, score from Joe Hisaihi doesn’t help matters either, as despite the tender piano refrains its overuse tends to dominate certain scenes. The excellent performances from the varied cast does a lot of the hard work though in key emotional scenes and Akira Emoto and Kirin Kiki as the father and grandmother are exceptional, bringing a nuanced pathos to their respective roles. Indeed, it is in the nuanced details that Villain really succeeds, finding emotional depth and character developments even in such oft ignored areas as costume changes and hair and make-up.
At 140 minutes Villain is definitely a slow burn but the pacing is reasonably well measured and there are few points at which the narrative begins to sag. A compelling meditation on murder, Villain is rather unsatisfying in some areas but taken as a whole it is an engrossing drama more than worthy of your time.
Villain is in select UK cinemas now. Head over to the Third Window site for details of where you can see it.