In the world of cinema, there are some well-known siblings working together. America has the Coen Bros and Belgium has the Dardenne Brothers. While the Mino Brothers (Ryuichi and Kazuhiko) are not yet well-known their latest work, Make The Devil Laugh, could very well change that.
One day, in order to protect his mother Yukiko (Mariko Akama) and his younger sister Madoka (Mai Ohtani), Kazuma Ishikawa (Shuhei Handa) decides to take matters in his own hand and beat his violent gambling-addicted father to death with a baseball club.
A few years later, he finds himself in a self-support probation facility. He currently works at a Matsumoto scrapyard, but aims to get a qualification, find a normal job, and enter university. At the scrapyard, he has to endure the vile comments of Segawa (-), one of the foremen, but this abusive atmosphere might change when Liu (Masahiro Umeda), a foreign trainee, is put in charge of the workplace.
Make The Devil Laugh is a narrative that explores the destructive conflict that can arise between the enjoying Other and the enjoyed subject, between an unforgiving society that enjoys the ‘sin’ of the other and the other who is considered ‘no longer human’.
Kazuma finds himself imprisoned in such destructive dynamic due to his youthful choice to kill his abusive father, to kill this person that radically complicates his function as father. This person cannot function as father due to the mere fact that his coming and going is not driven by a desire for his wife or his children, but by a need for money to flush away in gambling. This additive logic renders all his acts of kindness (e.g. bringing some candy for Madoka, …) hollow. Any expression of fatherly love merely functions as a ploy to gain the object he so needs to satisfy his thirst for pleasure: money.
His verbal and his physical violence are function of imaginary frustration. While, in some cases, his violence seems to be caused by the failure of the other to respond to his ‘kindness’ or ‘fatherly position’, the true source of his violent lashing-out is always his perceived lack of money – the lack of the object that allows him to run in the addictive wheel of gambling pleasure.
Kazuma’s act of violence is, as should be evident, from a very different order. His violence does not depend on a need for an object nor is it caused by the frustration of not having said object. His violence is born from a sense of righteousness and his assumed duty to protect those he hold dear. Yet, despite his violence being morally good-natured, his transgression of the law radically complicates his position within society (Narra-note 1).
In the eye of the Other, the subjective logic that underpins the act of violence is of no importance. Segawa, the supervisor at the scrap factory, who acts as a representative of the societal Other, has no eye for the truth that underpins Kazuma’s violent act. He merely exploits the transgression (i.e. Kazuya’s murder) or the failures of others (e.g. the physical weakness of an old man, the foreign trainees who made a mistake, … ) for his own enjoyment (Narra-note 2). It is, as a matter of fact, because he feels that he represents the societal order and its moral discourses that he feels entitled to wield his self-assumed superiority and abuse his position of power to torment those who do not fit the societal ideal and whom he considers inferior stains that dirty the moral sparkle of Japanese society.
The representatives of the Other are, in truth, only interested in the reality of transgressions and failures to feed their own feeling of moral superiority with these realities. By calling Kazuma ‘Mr. Murderer’, for instance, some of those representatives do not only intent to keep confronting him with his own unerasable transgression, but also to deny his subjectivity a rightful place with society by reducing him to his own transgressive act. The statement made by Kondo (-), a woman who gives lectures at the facility, has a similar function. Even though she elegantly hides her enjoyment behind her societal position as lecturer, her signifiers ‘trash is trash and always will be trash’ echoes a common discourse in the Other and reveals the position of superiority from which she enjoys. ]
Soon enough, a radical contrast etches out within the narrative, a contrast between the representatives of the Other, the societal order, who readily exploit their imagined superior moral position for their own perverse enjoyment and Kazuma who, as all his acts underline, is driven by a moral logic that does not serve his nor the Other’s enjoyment (Narra-note 3).
It is due to the fact that Kazuma and Liu are both subjected to this enjoyment that a friendship can blossom between them. It is within this amical bond that both our subjects can re-find a certain pleasure in life. The social bond is, in this sense, the main support for a flash of happiness that the Other tries to deprive them from. And then, Liu is made the foreman of the scrapyard. Are better times ahead? Mino’s finale, at least, underlines with a touch of irony that the Other will always tries to hide its enjoyment behind a moral benevolence and that the vile enjoyment of the Other is not easily quenched.
What stands out in the balanced composition of Make The Devil Laugh is the significance of the atmosphere. The darkish and subdued lightning-design as well as the grainy nature of the visuals ensures that even the momentary moments of familial happiness feel haunted by a bleak and violent ‘fatherly’ truth. The visual atmosphere seemingly echoes that any kind of happiness will eventually be smashed to pieces by the addicted ogre that can cannot driven away by mere beans.
Yet, the beauty of the atmospheric dimension lies in the fact that after Kazuma’s violent act this dark graininess succeeds in symbolizing another haunting presence, the destructive presence of a radically dismissive and unforgiving societal Other. The bleak atmosphere is, in a certain sense, nothing but the shadow of this Other that gains pleasure from loathing Kazuma and exploiting the foreign trainees, from violently ignoring their subjectivity, and refusing them their rightful place within the social field.
Ryuichi Mino‘s Make The Devil Laugh is an amazing socially-engaged piece of cinema that beautifully sketches out how the enjoyment of the Other, an enjoyment seemingly authorized by one’s assumed moral superiority, does not only effaces the subject and the moral truth of his violence, but also eventually leads to the veritable destruction of the subject. Highly Recommended.
Narra-note 1: His violent act also destroyed the familial structure. He continues to be subjected to the anger and fear of the mother. His violent act destroyed her life, not onlyby radically evaporating the violent dynamic that anchored her life but also by causing his mother’s subjection to the harassment of the enjoying societal Other. Madoka, for that matter, is in her own way, marked by such harassment.
Narra-note 2: Segawa and his colleague can indulge in bullying the foreign trainees (e.g. Vietnam-kun) because they feel they can cause the annulment of the status of their visa.
Narra-note 3: Yet, Kazuma’s desire to protect the other is not without any dangers.While he tries to keep his mother out of the hands of a religious cult, his continued attempts radically erase her subjective position of suffering. He denies her the happiness she can find in these religious ramblings.