Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a quiet, socially-awkward loner who lives in a small, rural village in Nagasaki working construction. He stays with his grandmother, Fusae (Kirin Kiki), and grandfather, Katsuji (Hisashi Igawa), and helps to take care of things around the house, as well as helping others in the neighborhood. His grandfather is in poor health so Yuichi often has to help bathe him and take him to and from the hospital on a regular basis. With a basically non-existent social life, he started emailing women on an online dating site. Yuichi corresponds with a young woman, Yoshino Ishibashi (Hikari Mitsushima), who leads a bit of a double-life by working in insurance during the day and getting paid for sex with Yuichi at random times. Yoshino's father, Yoshio Ishibashi (Akira Emoto), a barber living in a rural town in Fukuoka with his wife Satoko (Yoshiko Miyazaki), has no idea that his little girl is spending her free time doing such very adult things. While Yoshino has a sexual relationship with Yuichi, she's actually infatuated with spoiled, rich-kid Keigo Masuo (Masaki Okada), who lives a care-free life as a playboy, getting pretty much anything he wants. Masuo really has no interest in Yoshino but humors her by responding to her emails with the intention of just getting in her pants. On a night when Yoshino plans to meet with Yuichi, she runs into Masuo while Yuichi is within eyesight. She ditches Yuichi and gets in the car with Masuo which enrages our blonde-haired protagonist, prompting him to follow the two as they drive off. However, after Yuichi begins to tail the two of them, we fade to black and settle in on the next morning with Yuichi getting ready for work. Wait...what happened last night!? Ah, we'll we find out soon enough as Yuichi makes his way to work, which happens to pass by the same area Masuo and Yoshino were driving by last night but now it looks like a crime scene. What happened here? Well, we soon see Yoshino's dead body being pulled up the embankment on the side of the road by the authorities. Again I ask, what happened last night!?
Later on, Yuichi gets an email from Mitsuyo Magome (Eri Fukatsu), another member from the dating site, and decides to meet with her. After an initial misunderstanding with their intentions in regards to a relationship, the two find themselves to be quite a match. At least they seem to think so. Mitsuyo, while nowhere near as socially awkward as Yuichi, is just as desperately lonely as he is, fueled even more so by seeing her older sister in a healthy relationship. The two really seem to be hitting it off, but all is not well as the police have started asking grandma Fusae about Yuichi and his relationship with the deceased Yoshino. Turns out Masuo claims he didn't kill Yoshino but simply kicked her out of his car by the side of the road. What exactly did Yuichi did that night? The grieving Yoshio and his wife grow more emotionally unstable with the news that the police might not have the right guy after all. Yuichi panics at the news that the police are snooping around his home and decides to leave town, asking Mitsuyo to go with him. He doesn't have a plan, he knows he doesn't want to go home, and he finally musters the courage to make a confession to Mitsuyo. She doesn't seem to care about what he tells her, and only knows that she doesn't want to leave his side.
I really battled with how much of Akunin I wanted to give away. I didn't want to come right out and say so and so murdered Yoshino, so I'm not going to and I'm certainly not going to tell you the circumstances of her death. These are all things you should experience as a viewer with no real prior knowledge. The film does a great job at building suspense and maintaining a real air of mystery while the lives of all it's characters continue to move along. Speaking of which, there are an abundance of characters in Akunin and at first I wondered if the film would lose it's focus while shifting to so many different perspectives. Thankfully, when it does change perspective and focuses on a different character, it doesn't feel like the pace of the movie suffers and, as it should, still feels geared around the central storyline. I really felt that each character was interesting in their own right and I genuinely wanted to see how their side of things played out. Akunin won a small truckload of acclaim, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and Best Actress (Eri Fukatsu), at numerous awards shows and after seeing the movie, that makes perfect sense to me. While everyone in the film put forward incredibly strong performances, Satoshi and Eri, if I may be so bold, acted their asses off. The situation they're placed in is a tale as old as Romeo and Juliet, a forbidden love that tries it's hardest to defy the odds and those opposed. I could relate to the aspect of wanting something so bad, knowing it's near impossible and yet still trying even though you know it may be all for naught. Another theme that's accurately shown in Akunin is that sometimes our desires make us selfish and we end up hurting those that care for us, forcing their lives to change in the process.
The minute Akunin starts, you get the feeling that things aren't going to end well. However, you hang in there because of a cast providing incredibly strong performances, a story that keeps you guessing and a doomed romance that you can't help but wish had another chance under different circumstances. I'd be hard-pressed to find something negative to say about Akunin and have it be anything buy nitpicking. Truly a powerful film. (Lee)