2010, colour, 1.85:1, 107 mins
Directed by Nakashima Tetsuya (中島哲也)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 19 July 2010, 15:41 PM (HKT)
Stygian horror of classroom killers packs a considerable punch, despite being a little over-cooked for its own good. Some theatrical potential beyond genre festivals, plus beefy ancillary.
Japan, the present day. On the final day of term, middle-school homeroom teacher Moriguchi Yuko (Matsu Takako), after waiting for her unruly pupils to finish drinking their free milk, calmly tells them she is leaving her job. After castigating them for their shallowness and for "wishing for death", she confesses her troubled personal history: how her fiance, well-known academic Sakuramiya Masayoshi (Yamaguchi Makiya), discovered he was HIV-positive, so agreed not to marry for the good of their daughter, Manami (Ashida Mana); how she and Manami found they had not contracted the disease; and how she now knows that four-year-old Manami, who was found floating in a swimming pool two months ago, was actually murdered by two pupils in the homeroom. She identifies the murderers as only "Student A" (a brilliant but cruel pupil) and "Student B" (academically poor, who had been given poolside duties as punishment); but from her descriptions the whole class realises they are Watanabe Shura (Nishii Yukito) and Shimomura Naoki (Fujiwara Kaoru). Moriguchi then announces that, because they are minors and can never be made to pay for their crime, she had added some of her late fiance's HIV-infected blood to their individual milk cartons; the virus has a five- to 10-year incubation period, during which time they can reflect on the enormity of their crime. During the next academic year, as new homeroom teacher Terada Yoshiteru (Okada Masaki) takes over from Moriguchi, the true story of the crime, its effect on the boys' families, the reason for it, and the nature of Moriguchi's real revenge, emerges through overlapping "confessions" by Shura, Naoki, fellow pupil Kitahara Mizuki (Hashimoto Ai), who claims to despise them, and the boy's families.
Even audiences familiar with Japanese high-school psycho-thrillers, as well as director NAKASHIMA Tetsuya 中島哲也's quirky Kamikaze Girls 下妻物語 (2004) and Memories of Matsuko 嫌われ松子の一生 (2006), still won't be prepared for the hellishly dark and misanthropic Confessions 告白 (2010) which gives few places for the viewer to hide from its bleak view of amoral, irresponsible modern youth and a whole society on the edge of internal collapse. Presented in cold, gun-metal colours (beautifully sourced from HD), and peppered with black comedy that only seems to increase the film's darkness — a musical number at the other end of the spectrum to Matsuko's, emotional outbursts which mock regular Japanese family dramas, and speeded-up sequences — the movie seems to descend ever deeper into a pit of non-redemptive revenge with no escape. What weakens it effect in the long run is its very lack of hope: after a while there's a sameness to the plot twists that becomes simply repetitive rather than progressively more shocking.
But as a tour de force of evil unleashed, Confessions still makes gripping cinema for most of its length, and manages to recover its initial power for an impressive finale. The opening half-hour, entirely taken up with a dense classroom monologue by homeroom teacher Yuko (played with acidly sweet calm by MATSU Takako 松たか子), is totally hypnotic. What's even cleverer is that the script, from a popular debut novel by MINATO Kanae 湊かなえ, doesn't then develop in the expected way: Yuko's revenge isn't so simple as it first seems, and first the viewer gets to know the culprits, their families and their classmates (especially the cute but dangerous Mizuki) before the longer story eventually clicks into place. With its overlapping, voice-over "confessions", back-and-forth timeframes and shifting moral perspectives, the film takes considerable concentration to follow; but apart from a dramatically slack period prior to the finale, its grip rarely relaxes.
The adult cast, led by Matsu — here cast against type, in a role written with her in mind — is good. But it's the younger players who sustain the drama: NISHII Yukito 西井幸人 as the teenage genius from a troubled family who has the unflappable intellectual arrogance of the killers in Hitchcock's Rope; FUJIWARA Kaoru 藤原薫 as his accomplice who reverts into a feral hikikomori; and especially HASHIMOTO Ai 橋本愛 as the girl between them, who's not all she seems. Confessions is where Heathers didn't even dare to tread, let alone think; and in its unredeemed pessimism makes most Japanese and Korean high-school-bullying psychothrillers seem like walks in the park.
ContactSales: Toho (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Japan, 5 Jun 2010.
Presented by Confessions Production Committee (JP) [Toho, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, Faith Wonderworks, LICRI, Futabasha Publishers, Nippon Shuppan Hanbai, Yahoo Japan, Tsutaya Group]. Executive producer: Ichikawa Minami. Producer: Ishida Yuji, Suzuki Yutaka, Kubota Yoshihiro.
Script: Nakashima Tetsuya. Novel: Minato Kanae (2008). Photography: Ato Shoichi, Ozawa Atsushi. Editing: Koike Yoshiyuki. Music producer: Kanahashi Toyohiko. Theme song: Radiohead. Art direction: Kuwashima Towako. Sound: Yano Masato. Visual effects: Masuo Takayuki (Omnibus Japan).
Cast: Matsu Takako (Moriguchi Yuko), Kimura Yoshino (Shimomura Yuko, Naoki's mother), Okada Masaki ("Werther", Terada Yoshiteru), Nishii Yukito (Watanabe Shura), Fujiwara Kaoru (Shimomura Naoki), Hashimoto Ai (Kitahara Mizuki), Arai Hirofumi Park Gyeong-shik, Yamaguchi Makiya (Sakuramiya Masayoshi, Manami's father), Kuroda Ikuyo (Professor Yakada, Shura's mother), Ashida Mana (Moriguchi Manami, Yuko's daughter), Yamada Kinuo (Shura's stepmother).