Category Archives: Kiki Kirin

Kiki Kirin


Film: Villain
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
UK Release date: 5th December 2011
Certificate: 15
Director: Lee Sang-il
Starring: Eri Fukatsu, Masaki Okada, Hikari Mitsushima, Kirin Kiki
Running time: 140 mins
Genre: Drama
Country: Japan
Reviewer: Adam Wing

I usually avoid award-winning films because the height of expectation is often a curse, but it’s hard to ignore a success story of this magnitude. Based on Shuichi Yoshida’s novel of the same name, Villain is director Lee Sang Il’s follow-up to the award-winning movie Hula Girl. Not that Villain has proven any less successful. Villain earned 15 nominations at the 2010 Japan Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score and six nominations for its cast.
It took home 5 of them, including Best Actress, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress. Fukatsu Eri, herself victorious, also took home the Best Actress award at the 2010 Montreal Film Festival. Tsumabuki Satoshi (The Magic Hour) stars as one of the villains of the title, suspected of murdering his on-off girlfriend (Hikari Matsushima, Love Exposure). He is supported on this bleak journey by the likes of Kiki Kirin (Still Walking), Emoto Akira (April Bride) and Okada Masaki (Confessions). Lee Sang Il’s Villain is available for the first time on UK shores this month courtesy of Third Window Films.
Yuichi (Tsumabuki Satoshi) lives at home with his grandmother (Kiki Kirin) and meets women through Internet dating sites. Like most of the characters here, he’s awkward and socially inept, and there’s a good chance that his latest find Yoshino (Matsushima Hikari) is only stringing him along until she finds someone better. When Yoshino is found dead, Yuichi becomes the main suspect, but not before the police dismiss arrogant upstart Masuo (Okada Masaki), the cocky young college student who could’ve seen her last. Yuichi moves on to lonely shop clerk Mitsuyo (Fukatsu Eri) and the two begin an intense relationship destined to end badly. With Yuichi’s grandmother getting involved with brutal con artists, and Yoshino’s father investigating his own daughter’s death, it soon becomes clear that no matter where you go, villains can be found on every corner.
Considering the films length, Villain doesn’t actually give its characters much to do for the majority of the movie. It’s a measured approach that manages to hold your attention throughout, thanks in large to a trio of standout performances. Of all the young characters Mitsuyo is perhaps the most innocent, and it’s Eri’s tender yet memorable turn that acts as a guiding light through the darkness. She’s not without her flaws – Villain comes complete with a fine array of imperfection – but her naivety is perhaps her biggest weakness and compared to some of the other characters, she seems to be the most humane. It’s an engaging turn either way, one we can all relate to in one way or another, looking for the ‘good’ in people can be both a blessing and a curse at times.
A couple of minor players deserve more screen time, probably because their faults evoke more sympathy than anybody else’s. Yuichi’s grandmother (Kirin Kiki) feels a sense of guilt for the way she raised Yuichi, a situation worsened by the blame laid on her by his actual mother. Yoshino’s father (Akira Emoto) is determined to find the person responsible for his daughters murder and his journey is more affecting than any of the others. Yuichi and Masuo are less likeable of course, not to mention deeply flawed and occasionally tragic. Both Satoshi and Masaki are asked to dig a lot deeper as a result, with uneven results that don’t always punctuate. Satoshi’s Yuichi should’ve been more engaging as a pivotal character, but his sulky teen approach doesn’t always hit the right notes. Masaki’s role is less demanding, but he succeeds in making his character arrogant, unruly and unsympathetic, which is all that’s expected of him at the end of the day.
On the evidence of Villain, Lee Sang Il appears to be a straightforward, no thrills filmmaker. That’s not a criticism, it’s refreshing to find a director that doesn’t rely on big twists or flashy direction to bail him out; he puts his faith in storyline, characters and raw emotion. It’s not a complete success, and there is a nagging doubt that he could’ve dug deeper, but noteworthy performances keep Villain on the right side of compelling. Bleak, drawn out and occasionally plodding, a wise man once said that true perfection has to be imperfect. Villain touches on brilliance from time to time, whilst painting a complex portrait of guilt and innocence, good and evil and right and wrong.
The faint whiff of missed opportunity lingers even longer than the prolonged running time, and Villain loses points for siding with its sensitive star, but there’s something about Il’s latest that keeps you from kicking it out the car on a murky night.

The 25th Nikkansports Movie Awards & Ishihara Yujiro Awards

Best Movie: Tsuino Shintaku

Best Director: Uchida Kenji (Kagidorobo no Mesoddo)

Best Leading Actor: Takakura Ken (Anata e)

Best Leading Actress: Yoshinaga Sayuri (Kita no Kanariya tachi)

Best Supporting Actor: Moriyama Mirai (Kita no Kanariya tachi)

Best Supporting Actress: Kiki Kirin (Waga Haha no Ki / Tsunagu)

Best Newcomer: Takei Emi (Ai to Makoto / Rurouni Kenshin)

Best Foreign Film: Untouchable

Ishihara Yujiro Award: Anata e

Ishihara Yujiro Newcomer Award: Matsuzaka Tori (Tsunagu / Kirin no Tsubasa ~ Gekijouban Shinzanmono)

Special Award: Director Shindo Kaneto

Source: Nikkansports

REVIEW: Villain

悪人 (Akunin)

Released: 2010

Sang-il Lee

Satoshi Tsumabuki
Eri Fukatsu
Masaki Okada
Hikari Mitsushima
Kirin Kiki

Running time: 139 mins.

Reviewed by Nicholas Vroman

Sang-il Lee’s artistically rocky, monetarily successful career has been classic. A savvy independent filmmaker jumps into the mainstream with a set of uneven films culminating in his 2007 “Full Monty” variation, “Hula Girls”. A big success in Japan, including several awards, “Hula Girls” showed the potential birth of a hack. 2010, though, brought a new energy and gravity to his oeuvre with The Nose, his addition to the omnibus film, “Kaidan Horror Classics” and with “Villain (Akunin)”. “Villain” proceeded to take the 2010 Kinema Junpo award for best Japanese film and pop to the top (or 2nd place after “Confessions”) of many critics 10 best lists.

“Villain”’s morally ambiguous exploration of a murder’s psyche is brooding and stunningly shot noirish road movie that channels Hitchcock and Nick Ray, throws in a little Emily Bronte and James Whale for good measure, all with a deeper social critique that harkens back to Lee’s own early films.

The story centers on Ryuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki). On the surface, he’s another working class tough with dyed yellow blonde hair lurking around in his loud tricked-out car. Asocial and occluded, he’s the perfect sociopath; ultimately responsible for the murder that drives the action of the film, but also a tragic anti-hero that one doesn’t necessarily root for, but feels for.

Stalking Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima), a woman he met through a dating site, he gets rebuffed one dark night as she drives off with Masuo (Masaki Okada), a better moneyed fellow more to her liking. The next day she is found dead – murdered.

The murder opens up an exploration of who the true villains and victims are in this tangled nest. One plot thread involves Ryuichi’s grandmother (Kiki Kirin), left with the duty of raising her grandson – thankfully spared of any excavation or explanation of Ryuichi’s psyche – is exploited by medicine-selling huckster and his thugs and later by the media circus that camps out by her seaside village home. Another thread follows Yoshio (Akira Emoto), the slain Yoshino’s bereaved father. He’s no saint himself, discounting his wife’s suffering with traditional macho posturing as he goes out to impotently enact his revenge on the rich kid, Masuo, whom he assumes is the killer of his daughter. As revealed in flashback, Masuo himself, though not actually being the killer, could just as well have been.

And then there’s the heart of the tale, a story of young lovers on the run. As evidence begins to link him to the murder, he hits the road, hooking up with Magome (Fukatsu Eri), a clothing store saleswoman looking for any reason to get out. Even with the rough-sex-approaching-rape first date she has with the inept Ryuichi, she sees her chances at redemption of both him and herself. With this turn of events, Ryuichi and Magome become a contemporary Bowie and Keechie, though with decidedly more complex and confusing motivations that the anti-heroes of “They Live by Night” (and “Thieves Like Us”).

Fukatsu Eri takes Magome from a tentative wallflower to a young woman who, though not quite understanding how, finds her power of sexuality and survival in a fool’s errand of escape with the doomed Ryuichi. Through this transformative role, she captures a deep and uneasy look into the classic small-town girl’s dream of escape. All at once one recognizes the immense vulnerability, desperation, love and sheer willpower that could motivate such action. Quite rightfully she’s been feted for her performance, picking up the best actress award at Montreal.

Satoshi Tsumabuki as Ryuichi has a more difficult job of getting into one’s head. Here’s a young man who doesn’t understand much of the world, let alone what would drive him to kill someone – and it scares him. Magome helps him open up, but it’s too late. He’s far into flight mode. By the end, with a mob of flashlight holding policemen, like the villagers in “Frankenstein”, descending on the lover’s abandoned lighthouse lair, Ryuichi reveals that Magome may not know who or what he really is. He proceeds to strangle her. It’s the one moment of the film that may have worked better in the script than on screen, but it serves to demonstrate the enigmas and contradictions of the human soul, if somewhat ham-handedly.

A coda brings Magome to the roadside memorial for Yoshino. A chance near-meeting with Yoshino’s father leaves her in an unresolved position – to mourn for the victim of her lover, to upset a man coming to terms with a senseless death, to recognize her own complicity in the events, to take care of her own fragile place in the world.

Sang-il Lee’s open-ended exploration of society’s ills and villains marks a healthy return to his older passions. The visual logic highlighting a moody and rain-soaked landscape, small dying towns, shopping malls and highways and the windswept bluffs surrounding the perhaps overly symbolic lighthouse at the easternmost tip of Shizuoka is deftly handled by economic editing, audacious sound design and the genuinely breathtaking cinematography by Norimichi Kasamatsu.

Read more by Nicholas Vroman at his blog

Still Walking

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s unassuming Japanese family drama Still Walking opens, like so many Asian films, with images of food being prepared. A lavish meal is assembled in a small kitchen by the elderly Tosiko (Kirin Kiki) and her young daughter Chinami (the monosyllabically named Japanese cult actress You). They are getting ready to host their son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), his sweet new wife Yukari (Yui Natsukawa) and her young son Atsushi (Shohei Tanaka), the first time he has visited since he got married. Rightly or wrongly, Ryota believes his taciturn father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a retired doctor, disapproves of his marriage to a widowed mother and despairs of his chances to find a career as an art restorer.

At the same time, Chinami and her dopey, always-smiling salesman husband are hoping to move into the spare room, a proposal that her mother finds less than appealing. She is settled in her ways, tending to her husband and their garden. The already tense family gathering is made more uncomfortable by falling around the anniversary of the death of the family’s eldest son Junpei, a doctor like his father, who drowned while saving another man’s life a couple of years before. Junpei’s absence haunts the film like a ghost, particularly for Ryota who believes his parents would have preferred that he had been the one to die.

Like the recent Departures, Still Walking is a film about coping with grief through repetition and ritual. Some, like anointing a gravestone with water, are benign, but the other ceremonies that have built up around the tragic death are more sinister. From a cast of talented actors, Kirin Kiki stands out as the blunt and bickering grandmother. She is superb in every scene, her quick hands providing the family with delicate edible treats and her equally quick tongue providing the film with its best moment as she explains the malevolent thinking behind her façade of kindness to the boy her dead son saved. “I’m not cruel,” she tells her son, “It’s normal”.

There are moments throughout that recall the Japanese master director Yasujiro Ozu; lengthy, floor-level domestic still-lives and delicate images of the colourful garden that surrounds the house. The tone, like Ozu’s, is melancholic, tense and muted. At the heart of the film is the dining table, where the family eat, bicker, gossip and, slowly, unburden themselves. The story, which takes place over a single day and night, builds through an accretion of tiny details, oppressive silences and muttered asides, fleeting glances and fluttering gestures. Conversations begin at one point and, almost imperceptibly, conclude at another, some way distant. The root of the drama is revealed obliquely, a slow simmer of long-held grievances that never quite boils over. Restraint, in the end, wins out, but this grimly-held control only highlights the bright flashes of realistic emotion scattered all the way through what is a captivating film.