Make The Devil Laugh

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Make The Devil Laugh
"The Mino brothers are at their best in the film's smaller moments, the early domesticity of a family celebration or a shared piece of good fortune with co-workers handled with a welcome naturalism." | Photo: Courtesy of POFF

The title here could be misleading as the presence of the devil in it may have your mind racing towards an action thriller. In fact, the name of this latest collaboration between Japanese brothers Ryiuchi (directing) and Kazuhiko (writing) Mino refers to a sort of "don't count your chickens" Japanese proverb and is, for the most part, a low-key drama with a near-documentary feel that explores the culture of shame and blame in Japanese society through the prism of a single life.

The life belongs to Kazuma (Shuhei Handa, who also starred in the Mino brothers first, self-distributed film), though it's tricky to know whether, even from the start, it could be called his own since his happier moments with his mother and sister are punctuated by violent outbursts from his gambling and alcoholic father. Like so many film protagonists before him, it's not long before he reaches breaking point and commits an act that will haunt him for the rest of the film. While we, of course, feel sympathy for this teenager pushed to the limit, it seems that Japanese society - while outwardly putting an emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration - is much less open to the idea of redemption in practice.

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We catch up with Kazuma after he is sent to a scrapyard to work as part of his reintegration. A largely quiet soul, he's diligent and soft spoken - the sort who willingly goes to pick litter on "volunteer day" and with a list on his wall of simple life goals: Get a qualification, get a job, leave the factory, go to university. His action plan, however, is stymied by a society that views him as worse than the scrap he's tasked with breaking, summed up by one of the women overseeing his rehab, who tells a colleague, "Trash will always be trash".

Bullying is also the norm at the yard, although his status as "Mr Murderer" affords him a certain privilege in that regard, unlike the foreign workers from Vietnam and China, who are considered the lowest of the low and threatened with deportation if they don't toe the line. As with almost every environment we encounter, there's a surface politeness and ritual that indicates altruism, but which is little more than a thin fa├žade that cracks easily under the slightest pressure. Kazuma is the embodiment of stoicism in the face of rejection - a parallel with the traditional idea of the samurai, which the filmmakers will go on to underscore.

His loneliness is complete, not only at work but also back at his mother's home, where she, having turned to alcohol herself, screams against his presence. Even his sister seems to have moved on without him. All of which is what makes a touching friendship that blossoms between he and Chinese co-worker Liu all the more welcome and all the more fragile in the face of a society which expects the worst of both men.

The Mino brothers are at their best in the film's smaller moments, the early domesticity of a family celebration or a shared piece of good fortune with co-workers handled with a welcome naturalism. A feel for light comedy shines through in these scenes, the humour of the everyday slotted in without upsetting the overall tone. They also stitch their social commentary tight within the framework of the film, so that the focus is always on Kazuma's story even though they are highlighting wider problems, from social inequality to religious practitioners who fail to practise what they preach.

Handa anchors the action, offering a warm and sensitive presence even in the face of adversity, although occasionally he is pushed to melodramatics that the story could easily live without. Better than blowing up, is when he reins his emotions tightly in, such as we see him sobbing wrapped tight in a bedroll so nobody can hear his pain. The film retains a certain hope in the face of tragedy and it's clear the Mino brothers feel the blame ultimately lies with a wider society that values honour above forgiveness.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2021
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After a man kills to protect his mother and sister he finds it hard to achieve social rehabilitation in a society that has labelled him a murderer.

Director: Ryuichi Mino

Writer: Kazuhiko Mino

Starring: Shuhei Handa, Masahiro Umeda, Mariko Akama, Tadashi Sakata, Mai Ohtani, Yoshinori Okada

Year: 2021

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

Black Nights 2021

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