Yu (Ryusei Yokohama) works at the local recycling plant that has been constructed above the rural village of Kamon. At night he is coerced into working for gangsters who are illegally dumping hazardous waste at the site. Unhappy, yet forced to continue with the job to pay off his mother’s gambling debts, Yu is given a chance at turning things around when his old friend Misaki (Haru Kuroki) returns to the village. Misaki starts work at the plant and soon recruits Yu to provide tours for school children and take part in a documentary. Not everyone is happy as Yu’s father, who was opposed to the site, carried out an arson attack 10 years earlier.
“The Village”, written and directed by Michihito Fujii, is a sleek thriller centred around the activities of the waste processing plant in this rural community. The plant, which looms over the quaint village as a grey monolithic monstrosity pumping out toxic fumes, comes to symbolise the loss of innocence of the characters and the village itself. This community, now a dumping ground for all kinds of waste, some of which is buried illicitly causing water contamination, represents the duality of the human experience, capable of both hope and beauty and at the same time greed and corruption. Yu is a sympathetic protagonist, a tragic hero who is attempting to keep his head down and do the right thing, forced by circumstance into a Sisyphean struggle to support his mother, constantly berated for his father’s actions, and working for the bully Toru (Wataru Ichinose), the son of the mayor (Arata Furuta), who is also involved in the illegal dumping activity. Misaki, in contrast, returns to the village as a naive, uncontaminated soul, at first unaware of Yu’s misery. Unfortunately, the two of them are unable to escape the darkness that pervades this community, being dragged into it themselves. The film references Noh theatre, with a quote from a Noh play prefacing the drama that speaks of life as a dream; one that people are unable to wake from. The cinematography captures the elegance and simplicity of theatre, and the story itself is a timeless tale of good versus evil updated with modern concerns about environmentalism, corruption, gambling and gangsterism.
This modern tragedy is underscored by the incredible visuals, the contrast between the quiet traditional village setting, surrounded by verdant countryside, and the desolate ground of garbage with its insatiable concrete god belching fumes beside it. After Yu’s father’s failed attempt to stop construction of the plant, Yu appears to have simply given in, resigning himself to the daily drudge and hypocrisy of his work for the mayor and the local gang leader. In one scene we see Yu crouch down and listen to the sound coming from a mysterious hole in the waste site. This dark pit symbolises the darkness in himself, calling to him in his despair. It is this struggle against his own will, an attempt to supress the desire for revenge or to stand up for what’s right that makes him a tragic hero. It is one of several elements that are left to interpretation, such as the silent grandmother who bears witness to the village’s decent, and the enigmatic final shot. A stunning film with incredible cinematography and score by Taro Iwashiro; and a story that manages to weave together modern anxieties with traditional fears.