Short Cuts – Confessions (Kokuhaku)

Confessions (Kokuhaku) -2010

Director-Tetsuya Nakashima

Starring: Takako Matsu


“Vengeance taken will often tear the heart and torment the conscience.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer

In terms of Asian film there’s no denying the ongoing love affair with the ‘revenge’ sub-genre. We’ve seen it again and again from, ‘Audition’, and ‘Oldboy’, to newer fare such as ‘The Man From Nowhere’, and ‘I saw The Devil’.

Each film presents characters forced to face unthinkable situations, and documents their relentless pursuits towards personal vindication. While some directors like Park Chan Wook contend that their films are more philosophical meditations on the moral and psychological consequences of vengeance, a large percentage of these films unfortunately stand simply as a means to stretch the limits of modern transgressive Asian cinema.

Now director Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls. Memories Of Matsuko) shares his own ruminations on, the themes of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in his film, ‘Confessions’ (Kokuhaku).

Although ‘Confessions’ shares many of the same concepts and sentiments as the other films of this sub-genre, it would be a great disservice to lump it into the same category. In terms of the plot, it would also be wrong in itself to reveal the majority of the tale. Suffice to say it manages to crossbreed the deeper elements of Dostoyevsky and ‘Old Boy’ with the natural and unnatural growing pains of adolescence. The film redefines the bleak outlook held by many modern youth in Japan, and casts it into a black nihilistic void.

On the last day of the school semester, middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) prepares to teach her students her final class in the lessons of life. The teacher begins to share the tragic news of the death of her four-year-old daughter. The students sit in stunned silence as she then announces that her daughter was in fact murdered, and that two students within the class committed the crime. What starts as a simple tragic story quickly turns into deathly serious lesson in loss and retribution. Refusing to rely on an ineffective legal system as a means of punishment, the teacher instead sets in motion a series of events that goes far beyond the boundaries of vengeance.

From the initial first frames director Nakashima demonstrates real skill in wasting no time in snaring his audience. He sets a trap, baiting us with the tragic tale, and in the blink of an eye and in a few short words spoken by the teacher, the hook has sprung. We find ourselves pinned down like rats, unable to escape, and presented with a situation that is impossible to ignore.

While the film is based on fiction, it is also grounded in real tragic social issues, such as the school killings, and youth violence. We are faced with not only attempting to understand the motivations of the guilty, but also the aftermath in the emotions and actions of all involved. The film takes a ‘Rashomon’ type of approach in presenting the same issue from the various perspectives, as each character shares their own ‘confession’, and opinions regarding their situations. Feelings of hatred, sympathy, guilt, and innocence all bleed into a gray ambiguous sea, and no one comes out unscathed.

In tackling such serious subject matter you would expect the film to be laid out in a direct cut and dry approach, but such is not the case. ‘Confessions’ is masterfully shot, and brings to mind the visual stylings of Terrance Malick, and Satoshi Kon’s ‘Perfect Blue’. Pivotal moments of the film drift across the screen like clouds, and there is a climactic resolution in slow motion that is both achingly tragic and beautiful. While Nakashima’s decision to present such heavy content in a dream like manner might be in question, the cinematography bonds with the soundtrack in an amazing audio/visual interplay. Both the music of Radiohead, and the Japanese band Boris, are used to incredible effect to convey the raw gamut of emotions that the film presents.

If there are any problematic issues that emerge from the film, they can be strictly be pointed out in the plot. At several instances in the film several implausible situations arise to propel the story. While it doesn’t reach ‘Shyamalan’ levels of absurdity, it does beg you to suspend a modicum of disbelief. By the time the film makes you question its logic, you’ll already be so absorbed in it that you can forgive its misdirection.

‘Confessions’ was selected as the 2010 Japanese entry for the Academy Awards and for good reason. Nakashima has clearly showed film audiences that he is more than capable of weaving stunning images into a hypnotic plot that absorbs you right from the onset.

VERDICT: It’s surprising how effortlessly ‘Confessions’ has defined itself as one of my favorite films of the last five years. Regardless of your taste in terms of film, you need to take it upon yourself to catch ‘Confessions’, as it is a mandatory view.

‘Confessions’ is currently available on region 3 DVD from WWW.Yesasia.com, and will soon be available on DVD and Blu-ray from WWW.Amazon.co.uk at the end of April.

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One Response to “Short Cuts – Confessions (Kokuhaku)”

  1. I agree with you. Confessions has become one of my favorite movie from the first moment I watched it. Everything is so cool and awesome about it. Deep story, good acting, and skillful direction.
    I liked your review so very much too. You’ re very good at this. I should really thank you.

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