An absurdly overwrought melodrama that starts like Twin Peaks but soon degenerates into the sort of pseudo-meaningful award-baiting garbage that served Paul Haggis so well with the inexplicably garlanded Crash, this Japanese success story sadly loses much of its apparent appeal in translation. Based on a best-selling book and bloated to a sprawling 140 minutes, the film initially puts across pertinent points about the dehumanising effect technology is having on Japanese youth, managing to powerfully yet subtly etch out the moral disregard that mobile phones and the internet are causing through the simultaneous freedom and bind they represent. The varied ensemble cast invest the rambling story with more gravitas than it deserves but Lee Sang-il's intermittently impressive direction ends up burying their best efforts under a climax of ill-fitting sentiment, leaving the viewer scratching their head while stifling yawns.

After a promiscuous young girl is found murdered, the consequences lead to crossed paths for a grieving father, cocky rich kid, withdrawn loner and his loyal but naive mother. As the media moves on, the culprit's emotional detachment is tested by a tentative romance with a vulnerable stranger, a relationship that could see history repeat itself. As the unhinged but sympathetic killer takes his new partner into hiding, their bond is tested by the dawning reality of their situation. Redemption for each of them may depend on how they handle the challenges society throws their way.

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Satoshi Tsumabuki gives a suitably oblique central performance but the script's machinations sadly work against his character's credibility; it's hard to know whether to feel sympathy or revulsion towards him. Eri Fukatsu is also impressive as his inexplicably besotted love interest, but again her actions aren't always consistent with her personality. The old guard are the most effective here, with Akira Emoto and Kirin Kiki finding raw emotion and stoic poignancy in their finely tuned, slowly intensifying turns. However, much of the impact of the acting is undermined rather than enhanced by Joe Hisashi's pretty but overly didactic score; any feeling events may have engendered is spoiled by the music's insistent and cliched presence.

The strange genre-mashing narrative throws up several memorable moments, such as the father's bittersweet vision of his tragic daughter and the simmering confrontation between him and her insensitive ex, but the unpredictable plotline is still fundamentally draining for being so drawn out. The film is perceptive in its critique of Japanese culture's modern foibles, but it lacks cohesion and coherence, and ultimately feels like a missed opportunity. World cinema fans will find plenty to chew on in terms of acting, and there are enough quietly affecting sequences to just about keep you engaged for the duration, but Villain is let down by its cack-handed attempts at ambiguity and frequently cloying dramatics.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2012
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Villain packshot
A man's life becomes increasingly complicated and dagerous after he murders a young woman.
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Director: Lee Sang-il

Writer: Shûichi Yoshida, Lee Sang-il

Starring: Eri Fukatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Akira Emoto, Kirin Kiki, Hikari Mitsushima, Masaki Okada

Year: 2010

Runtime: 139 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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