Director - Sang Il-Lee
A peculiar love story that looks beautiful but has a coldness at its heart.
Set on the southern island of Japan, Kyushu, the story spans from Nagasaki on the western edge to the big city of Fukuoka on the northern tip. Akunin is the story of a man burned, who turns to the dark-side for a brief moment . It is compelling stuff, asking some big questions about the nature of judgement and how far you can push the desire to be loved.
Six peoples lives become entangled in a tragedy. A pretty, but vacuous young girlYoshino has been dating a young guy, Shimizu, from the countryside. They arrange to meet in Fukuoka but while he is waiting for her she finds a more suitable alternative, the handsome but morally vacant Masuo. They leave, and Shimizu slams on the accelerator. In the next scene the police are uncovering her body and this is where the story starts for real. The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks which fill out the event, timed to manipulate our interpretation of the events.
The villain of the title, Shimizu, is a fairly simple character. Undernourished in his family life, lost in the world. His crime, of course utterly deplorable, is passionate not premeditated, and in a way, retaliatory too. His relationship with Mitsuyo, the excellent Eri Fukatsu, seems to offer redemption. Clearly his first mutual relationship with a women, he attempts to give her money after they have sex, of which the manner conducted is itself worthy of a psychiatrist's couch. You would never go so far as to say he is likable, but his vulnerability is disarming. At lunch with her in a quaint tourist restaurant he blurts out his terrible secret, exposing the unreality of the situation: a picture perfect romantic moment is brought crumbling to the ground.
Mitsuyo is the intrigue of the story. Her motives though clear, are impenetrably difficult to understand. She is evidently lonely; at work in a suit store she mistakenly assumes a romantic edge to an interaction with a customer. Without him ever getting wind we see her hopes raised and dashed as his wife turns the corner, in a way that seems very familiar to her. It is this loneliness that pushes her to avoid the taints on the outside of Shimizu. On their first meeting he barely speaks to her at first, distrustful and disdainful. She remarks that he is not the kind of person she normally spends time with. She emits an aura of innocence and with his bleached hair and sporty clothes his roughness jars. You imagine in a hundred other lifetimes their paths would never have crossed, but the pressure and longing to be with someone draw them together. His treatment of her is misogynistic, aggressive but she makes a commitment to find the decency in him.
The film looks amazing, capturing the island of Kyushu perfectly. It comes across as a cold, barren place, Shimizu and Mitsuyo struggling through it. I found myself reminded of Takeshi Kitano's Dolls, the story of a couple condemned to wander Japan bonded by an unbreakable rope. Their hideout in a lighthouse, though perhaps a little cliched, is striking and cinematic. However, too much time is spent on the exposition, it is a good 40 minutes before the set up has been established. The peripheral stories of the father and grandmother, even with some decent acting, can't help but be superficial. Apart from fleshing out the two characters and developing some of the themes, they have little purpose. The excellent performances, interesting ideas and visual style make this a solid film. Finally, though asked to analyse our own judgement of the characters, at the end the film is ambiguous in its own.