Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 August 2011

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Lee Sang-il

Writers: Shûichi Yoshida, Lee Sang-Il

Based on the novel by: Shûichi Yoshida

Original title: Akunin

Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Eri Fukatsu, Masaki Okada, Hikari Mitsushima, Kirin Kiki

Japan 2010

140 mins

Villain is distributed by the small specialist distributor Third Window Films. They (as well as many other small UK film distributors) have had all of their stock destroyed in the Sony warehouse fire during the riots on August 8. Please help support them by going to see the award-winning Villain.

A young man with dyed, dirty-blond hair sits in a car in a petrol station. While Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) waits for the tank to be filled up, he watches a video on his mobile phone of an attractive girl, lying on a bed in her underwear. The girl, Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima), works for an insurance company, lives in a dormitory, and has her heart set on the cool, attractive playboy Masuo (Masaki Okada), but toys with the socially awkward Yuichi in the meantime. When the girl is found dead, it’s easy for the audience to guess who must be responsible for her murder - either the working-class loser who lives with his grandmother (terrifically played by Kirin Kiki), or the popular, charismatic Masuo.

But Yuichi’s relationship with the murdered girl isn’t really the key to Lee Sang-il’s Villain, which won five of the top prizes at the Japanese Academy Awards - four of them for acting. Rather, the story swirls around Yuichi’s relationship with Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu), who leads her own lonely and depressed life, working in a stuffy men’s clothing store in a town that she’s never left. When she’s alone at home in the apartment she shares with her more popular sister, Mitsuyo sits at the low table, tucked up in blankets, shovelling huge forkfuls of cake into her mouth. Her encounter with Yuichi, whom she meets on an online dating web site, will change everything. She’s so desperate for love that she will do anything to protect him.

While Lee, who based the film on a hugely popular 2007 novel, leaves little doubt in the minds of the audience about who’s guilty, he does plant the seeds of doubt in the search for motive and circumstance. As events unfold and clues are dropped, moral ambiguity takes hold. Masuo goes on the run; finally found by the police alone in a love hotel, he’s their first suspect. When the police turn their attention to Yuichi, Masuo is hounded by Yoshino’s distraught father (Akira Emoto), who’s enraged when he catches sight of him soon after, laughing and drinking in a bar, surrounded by friends, while his daughter lies on a slab in the morgue. Whoever the murderer is, it becomes ever clearer that there is more than just one villain in the story and that no one is wholly innocent.

Set in winter, the film has a cold, bleak feel, the only real touches of beauty found when Mitsuyo and Yuichi reach the isolated lighthouse where the final tragic scenes will play out. Despite the murder and unravelling mystery at the heart of the film, Villain is not a thriller; it’s a slow-burning drama, restrained in its emotions, building in intensity, drawing in the audience as details are revealed. Lee has crafted a sparse, elegant portrait of loneliness, grief and desperation, with some brilliantly convincing performances adding to the film’s appeal.

See a list of all the UK venues where Villain is playing.

Sarah Cronin

Watch the trailer: