DVD Review: ‘Villain’

Having already picked up a staggering 15 nominations at the Japanese Academy Awards (and walking away with 5 of them), Sang-il Lee’s multi-layered whodunit Villain (2010) comes to DVD this week courtesy of Third Window Films, and from the off it’s clear to see why the film has been one of the finest East Asian efforts of the year.

Clearly indebted to Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 crime masterpiece Rashomon and based on Shuichi Yoshida’s novel of the same name, Villain follows the impact of a young girl’s murder upon several central characters, two of which are potentially implicated with her death. Yoshino (Mitsushima Hikari) – the unfortunate future victim of this heinous crime – finds herself caught between dating two young men, the enigmatic Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and the brash, blasé Masuo (Okada Masaki), one of whom is her killer.

After the discovery of Yoshino’s body at the bottom of a hill just off a country road, her distraught father Ishibashi (Emoto Akira) and Yuichi’s grandmother (Kiki Kirin) are both dragged into the investigations as the manhunt begins. Meanwhile, prime suspect Yuichi falls for clothing shop assistant Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu) after meeting her via an online dating site, and the two escape to a remote coastal lighthouse in order to evade the police. As the net tightens around Yoshino’s unknown killer, the lives of all involved are irrevocably changed forever.

Anyone who has seen the aforementioned Rashomon will be right at home with Villain’s complex labyrinth of subjectivity. Murder still stands as one of the most popular crimes for both cinematic and televisual exploration, as proved by the enduring success of both the original Danish version and US remake of mystery series The Killing. Lee keeps his cards to his chest at all times, moving back and forth in time to present tidbits and snippets of vital information to his film’s expectant audience. Importantly, actual moral judgement seems to be of little concern to Lee, preferring to capture proceedings with cold impartiality rather than OTT bombast.

Whilst perhaps let down slightly by its unnecessarily long runtime, Villain is certainly good money for its JAA dominance, and alongside Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, remains one of this year’s finest meditations on the universal concepts of crime and punishment. 

Daniel Green