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Make the Devil Laugh

Modern, heart-wrenching samurai fable exposes a ruthless and deeply xenophobic Japanese society driven by greed - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Kazuma (Shuhei Handa) is a honest and integral man whose sense of compassion and solidarity knows no bounds. One day, he kills his own father in order to protect his mother Yukiko and his sister Madoko from domestic abuse. The two women react with anger, disapproving of the murder and distancing themselves from the well-meaning vigilante. Kazuma seeks rehabilitation by working in a scrap yard run by the greedy and unscrupulous Ryuji Matsumoto.

The angry and confused young man finds comfort and friendship in a Chinese worker called Liu. All of the workers are foreign, mostly of Vietnamese origin. They work hard and speak broken Japanese. They are subject to constant abuse and humiliation, laying bare the deeply xenophobic face of Japanese society. Despite a fast declining and ageing population, Japan does not welcome immigrants with open arms. In fact, it despises them. They take up the most undesirable jobs, and integration is virtually impossible.

The large metal scraps surrounding Kazuma and the gaijin (foreigners) are representative of their mental and social status. They are crooked and don’t fit neatly anywhere. They are useful to society, but also entirely disposable. In one of the film’s most crucial scenes, Ryuji chastens and shames his staff as he attempts to find out how his invaluable Mercedes Benz was scratched. The elicitation technique is perverse, twisted and rampant with racism. The workers remain silent and honourable, until someone breaks the code of trust with a frivolous accusation.

The film title refers to a Japanese proverb: “if you talk about next year’s plans, the devil will laugh”. Kazuma indeed dares to dream, dares to plan a future. But his attempts are futile. His family continues to reject him, and he sees no way out of the low-skilled, intense labour to which he is subjected. He wishes to study, get a qualification and a decent job, but these objectives become increasingly elusive. The devil indeed seems to have the final say.

The friendship between Kazuma and Liu provides the most profound and beautiful moments of personal reflection. The bond is genuine. It empowers them both. Their allegiance is put to the ultimate test when Liu lands in hot water and has a very shocking request to make. The outcome is a moving yet disquieting ending when honour and pride prevail, with Kazuma resorting to an ancient samurai practice. It is only in the last scene on the beach that it all comes full circle: the entire movie is a modern samurai fable.

Make The Devil Laugh has just premiered at the 25th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, as part of the event’s Official Selection.

By Victor Fraga - 26-11-2021

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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