Sunday, 13 November 2011

Film Diary: Confessions (Kokuhaku), 2010

Confessions is directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. I'd previously seen his films, Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko and was struck by his unique, dream-like style. Confessions is different in the way that it's very dark, and, apart from one short section, is without the humour and brightness of the two films of his that I'm familiar with. It's a drama, told in spiralling form of individual confessions from the characters involved, all of which add a piece to the whole story until completion. As well as this complicated unfolding narrative, which centres around the death of a child, it also reveals the background of the characters which lead to the main event and the repercussions.

The film starts with a teacher calmly telling an unruly group of schoolchildren about the death of her daughter, who she believes was murdered by two students in the class. She describes how she wants them to pay, since the judicial system cannot metre the appropriate judgement they deserve, so she is taking her own form of revenge upon them. That's really the crux of the film. The actress who plays the teacher, Takako Matsu, is very understated and cold. She is extremely believable as a woman driven purely by revenge and her actions, though extreme, are understandable. It's hard to feel sympathy for some of the characters, yet I did. Bullying is depicted so brutally in Confessions that it was very hard to watch at times.

There is a high contrast, blue tint to the film, with a yellow, brighter tone to the 'happier' scenes. Much use of slow motion shots are edited in. I imagine that this film is an editor's dream. It is a beautiful example of film making. Every part of the film is perfect, from the script, performances, direction, editing and soundtrack. The soundtracks of Nakashina's films are always special, but Confessions features Radiohead ("Last Flowers") and The XX ("Fantasy") tracks so well in combination to haunting slow motion scenes that it's like the songs were written for the film.

Nakashima's screenplay doesn't sugarcoat the characters. It all seems like a terrible modern day Greek tragedy but very realistically done. It kept revealing secrets until the very end. One of final scenes shows the imagined reversal of time (with some amazing CGI effects) and is poignant in terms of the whole film, but echoes the way the narrative is crafted. To me, it seems like the film is revealed backwards in a way to move the film forwards and it's fantastically done because, unlike some attempts at reverse storytelling, you don't feel lost and have a need to watch the film again to take it all in.

I truly haven't seen a anything like this before. It's not a pleasant watch; it's very depressing on a Schindler's List level and I felt very disturbed afterwards since it is so very extremely bleak. If you can cope with that by consuming large amount of chocolate throughout, it's a film which will stay with you.  The moral I think the film tries to communicate is to value life, but it's told in such a devastating way that it makes it a much more powerful message than the happy, skippy "LIFE IS GOOD!" films. I do feel rather bankrupt emotionally by watching Confessions, but not in a bad way. I feel that buzz of having watched a genuinely good film and that doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

I would put this film alongside the Vengeance trilogy by another of my favourites, Park Chan-wook, as it is innovative and shares themes of revenge, lies, the value of life and the ripple effect a deed can have on others. It's films like this that you can't imagine originating in the West but are likely to be remade by Hollywood at some point. I dread the day.

In an attempt to emphasise how good this film is, it has won a host of awards. It was the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. It won the awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay & Best Editor at the 34th Japan Academy Prize. Also, it had 6 nominations in the Asian Film Awards.

So, highly recommended. Also, try and find the soundtrack. I'm so thrilled to see that "Last Flowers" has been used because it was only available on the bonus disc of "In Rainbows" and is not as well know as the tracks on the standard edition. It's one of my favourite songs on the album and it's used to brilliant effect in this film. It could be said thought that the music makes the film even more depressing and dark, and it's pretty hard to stomach anyway, but personally I think it works perfectly. There are some gory scenes, but my gore level is warped since seeing Ichi the Killer so it seems pretty tame and 'artful' to me in comparison. I'm left wanting to read the novel upon which the film was based but there doesn't seem to be an English translation available from what I can tell. Hopefully if it wins at the Academy Awards, this may change.


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