This was the longest 1 hour and 40 minutes of my life.
“Confessions,” directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, is a brilliant film in every single scope imaginable. It’s a thriller, a drama, a horror, even maybe ironic comedy all in one. It toyed with my mind and made my heart beat fast after I left the theater. It made me flash through my family memories as though I were personally suffering.
The film was released in the beginning of June, just three weeks ago, and now it makes its appearance during the 9th New York Asian Film Festival. It was a big hit in Japan, and I’m positive it will earn rave reviews from this festival.
Anyways – on to the review! And I will try my best not spoil it! Promise!
Here is the synopsis of the story from the NYAFF website:
Takako Matsu [a famous actress and singer] plays a middle-school teacher whose four-year-old daughter is murdered. Shattered, she finally returns to her classroom, only to become convinced that two of her students were responsible for her daughter’s death. No one believes her, and she may very well be wrong, but she decides that it’s time to take her revenge. What happens next is all-out psychological warfare waged against her students in an attempt to force them into confessing what she knows in her heart to be true: they are guilty.
What is ridiculous is that the first twenty minutes of the film starts off with an insanely long monologue by Takako Matsu‘s character, Miss Moriguchi. Within that monologue, she tells you everything that would usually be drawn out in a film. She states that her daughter was killed, and that her students did it. The mystery is all gone. So, what next?
Well – the answer is a Rashomon-styled story where we hear confessions from every person involved in the case. It includes the perspectives of the two students who killed her daughter, the class leader, and the mother of one of the suspicious students. It’s a psychological game throughout, and you wonder at times just who is exactly outsmarting who? Just when you think a character is going to “win” and achieve some sort of peace, something throws you right off track again. The film slowly reveals through the multiple perspectives just what exactly drives each of those characters and pulls them into the dark game of revenge.
The sound and look of the film also reflect that. Each scene alternates between loudness and silence, voice overs and conversations, all of which help emphasize certain points and yet reflect internal turmoil of the characters. When a student decides to listen to her mp3 instead of Miss Moriguchi, the sound fades out and a soft melody enters the scene. Radiohead even shows up on the soundtrack to great effect. Each scene is also carefully shot – whether through mirrors that show off a warped reality, or through wide shots that emphasize the conflict of individual versus society.
As for the “psychological warfare” – it is truly a complex war that Miss Moriguchi wages upon her students. Though it seems on the outset to be quite simplistic, her plans unfold as the movie goes along, and that is when you realize just why you’re watching this film. Honestly, the film could have ended after thirty minutes – but then we wouldn’t really have a film, would we? We, the audiences, would only have known about how her daughter’s death occurred and how she figured out which students had killed her daughter. That would not have been as exciting. It’s a twisted war, but if one thinks about it, it is very simple psychology; Miss Moriguchi uses the simple power of crowd psychology to help implement her plans. However, at the end of the movie, one wonders just exactly who “wins” in this film.
Several themes do come into play. An oft-repeated line is “Life is precious,” but this film makes you question that very belief. Every character struggles with that line in some way, and some may be led astray (just as how middle schoolers can be easily led astray). Whether that line is true or not is really up to the audience. It varies depending on how you interpret the ending; either way, I loved the ending. I will say right now that I hate Hollywood endings; that doesn’t mean I prefer it if the characters suffer or something, but I do particularly hate it when the ending is all neatly tied up. This film from the start tells you it won’t be a neat ending, because if there were supposed to be one then it would have ended 30 minutes in. Other themes are loneliness and “individual versus society.” By using middle schoolers as the main characters in the film, it emphasizes that time in our lives when we are feeling alienated and coming to terms to ourselves as we grow into adolescence.
The actors are quite simply amazing. Takako is haunting as the perfect teacher on the outside. Okada Masaki (of Japan’s Hana Kimi) is a riot as the teacher that replaces Miss Moriguchi. Yoshino Kimura plays the tortured mother of student Naoki, who is one of the killers, with enough pain and fragility that I feel just as frightened as she does of her son. The two student killers, Naoki and Shuya (both of whom I’m not entirely sure what the actors’ names are, but mastermind Shuya might be played by Yukito Nishii) are beyond brilliant. These two boys play their parts so perfectly that I get scared by them. Shuya has a certain gravitas that pulls you in; just when I thought I knew what to make of him, he pulls a fast one; he did it twice.
There were certain things that I thought were too much, particularly one slow-motion scene with plenty of CGI. It was incredibly long, but the scene was probably purposely made long. It depicted the feelings of wanting to turn back time, and of time stopping. Though I was antsy to see through to the end of that particular scene, it was very necessary to the film. In fact, every scene was quite necessary in some way to build up the tension so that when the characters cracked, you knew why they did. The reason why I say it was the longest 1 hour and 40 minutes ever was because the film managed to suspend time for me. I was trapped in the film for that entire period of time, and as much as I wanted to get out, I couldn’t. The ride was completely frightening; I had ended up covering my face for the latter half of the film just afraid of what would happen. Tetsuya succeeds in making me lose myself in this film.
Here is the trailer to the film. There are no subtitles, but the trailer goes like this – Miss Moriguchi addresses her riotous 7th grade students and informs them that her daughter Manami was killed. As her students drink their cartons of milk, she tells them the story of Students A and B. She confronts both of them and finds out what they did to her daughter (see – the mystery is gone). Then we see Naoki’s mother and the replacement teacher, and the trailer pretty much descends into madness as it shows how Miss Moriguchi’s plan for revenge spirals out of control and affects more people than it should.
You can check out more details here.