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Some eyes are unforgettable, not only for their striking size (Bette Davis) or beauty (Paul Newman), but also for the personality that animates them. Minori Hagiwara may not be at their level of stardom but the first thing I noticed about her character in Ryutaro Ninomiya’s 2019 “Minori, on the Brink” was her eyes, scorching the patronizing, possessive men she encounters with the heat of her scorn.

Hagiwara plays a similar character in Taro Miyaoka’s “Ruined,” and I at first assumed the film was a Hagiwara vehicle made to bring out her particular brand of fire, with her eyes again drilling like lasers through pretense and lies. In fact, it is based on a 2009 play by playwright and stage director Kazuomi Makita.

Also, Hagiwara’s character, Sayo, is no feminist warrior. She is instead a struggling fashion designer in Tokyo whose older sister, Asumi (Rumi Higari), calls her with the happy news that she is getting married. For reasons the film is slow to disclose, the announcement angers Sayo. She arrives at the family home in the countryside, where Asumi is living, seething like an avenging angel and accompanied by a friend (Takenori Goto) who serves as a calming presence, if only initially.

Ruined (Nare no Hate)
Rating
Run Time 81 mins.
Language Japanese
Opens Dec. 3

First impressions are also deceiving for other characters: Asumi is a dowdy librarian and the polar opposite to her stylish, outspoken younger sister; Asumi’s fiance, Fuseno (Kenta Kiguchi), is a salaryman who stumbles back to his betrothed’s place hopelessly drunk with an understanding coworker (Yusuke Hanato) after a night of entertaining clients; and “Maa-kun” (Tomoya Taguchi) is a shy, heavyset repairman who awkwardly pops in and out of Asumi’s house.

What they and others share is an unease at Sayo’s uninvited presence, a discomfort that is deepened when she begins tearing down the veneer of civility and normality almost from the moment of her arrival. The source of her anger: An incident that caused her to leave her hometown eight years ago and has brought her back seeking answers — and payback.

Her most pressing question is why Fuseno is marrying her sister, since he has lukewarm affection for her at best. We eventually learn more about the incident that made Sayo leave home — Fuseno sexually assaulted her, which everyone knew about but never did anything about. When she breaks the silence about the attack, the masks drop and the knives come out. “You slept with a lot of guys, so why is rape such a big deal?” asks Maa-kun, the bumbling comic relief no longer.

From this point, the film becomes one overheated dramatic scene after another, with the actors mostly playing to the back row, while at times straining credulity. One exception is Yuzuki Akiyama, last seen escaping zombies in the hit comedy “One Cut of the Dead,” who delivers a finely honed turn as a ditzy would-be novelist. She wants to use the sisters’ story as material — and ignites the film’s biggest emotional explosion.

Through it all, Hagiwara remains a compelling presence, for her tears as much as her rage, with a performance that is all of an intensely focused piece. She is the main reason “Ruined” is more of a success than a theatrical mess.

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