I have something to confess…

At Movie Club last Saturday, we watched a Japanese movie called ‘Confessions’. It was my choice  because I found the show intriguing, but the reactions of the rest of clubbers after watching it were quite varied! So I did more research on the movie and came across this well-written and balanced review. Here it is:

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A surprise box office hit in Japan, ‘Confessions’ made its way to the Toronto International Film Festival, and also chosen as Japan’s entry to the Oscars. However, it’s a very Japanese movie I can only recommend to viewers who have seen over 50 Japanese films or prior experience with violent Japanese films. For everyone else, I would recommend less graphic Japanese value-of-life school films such as ‘The Blue Bird’ (2008) and ‘School Days with a Pig’ (2008).

Although there is a lot of blood spilled in the movie, it’s still a mainstream picture with violence that’s nothing compared to films directed by pre-2003 Miike Takashi, pre-2001 Kitano Takeshi, or most Japanese B-movies. What makes ‘Confessions’ a truly disturbing film, is that the horrifying acts of violence are done by teens, and adults’ reactions toward them.

‘Confessions’ is the first non-comedy film directed by Nakashima Tetsuya, who is known for award-winning comedy films ‘Kamikaze Girls’, ‘Memories of Matsuko’, and ‘Paco and the Magical Book’. The story is based on 2008 award-winning novel of same title, which tells the story of a teacher’s revenge on two students who killed her daughter. The movie is thought-provoking as well as emotionally draining, and takes the saying “kids can be cruel” to a whole new level.

The Japanese term for teacher is “sensei”, a title given not only to teachers, but also as suffix to other honorable occupations in society like doctors, writers, politicians, and lawyers. Teachers in Japan have traditionally been a highly respected occupation because they guide students not only in the subjects they teach, but also supposed to be mentors in life. In essence, a sensei performs the tasks of both teacher and student councilor for his/her class. The occupation has been glorified and beautified in abundance of modern literature with modern school dramas such as ‘3-B Kinpachi-sensei’, ‘GTO’, ‘Gokusen’, and ‘Rookies’, where teachers connect with delinquent students by relentless trust and hard work. In ‘Confessions’, however, the teacher played by Matsu Takako is depicted as an emotionless and cruel individual who sets out to take the matter into her own hands by teaching the value of life through horrifying revenge. It even pokes fun at the glorified teacher’s image in media with lines like “I don’t trust any of you, you’re all talented liars”, and the absurdity of the passionate teacher who was totally unaware of the situation. The student violence and coldness of the teacher is very reminiscent of ‘Battle Royale’ (2000).

Acting and casting in this movie were superb. I have been a Matsu Takako fan for a long time, but it was by far her best performance ever, and handled her unlikely dark role surprisingly well. Her control of emotion was right on in the first half as a ruthless teacher who suffers from tremendous pain, but hides her feelings in front of her students. In the second half, her character break down a couple of times, and it wasn’t very hard for me to sympathize with the character despite the horrible things she did. Kimura Yoshino, and Okada Masaki both played their parts brilliantly in supporting roles. The casting was ridiculously well-done because all the characters felt so real, which brings a chill down my spine because it seemed like such frightening events can actually happen in real life. The child actors also performed very well, depicting the ill state some of the classrooms in Japan, and the twisted thoughts juvenile minds can have. Teen model Hashimoto Ai, who played Student A’s girlfriend especially shined. She definitely will have a great career ahead if she can continue to perform at this level.

The story is unveiled through confessions of various characters in the movie, sometimes repeating the same event from different perspectives. Everyone expresses their own hopes and despair, sadness and hatred. The fast narratives combined with hauntingly beautiful slow motion imagery and mesmerizing background music gave this film an eerie, gloomy atmosphere that complimented the story, as well as an exceedingly engaging flow of plot development. My only complaint is that the movie is slightly overproduced with excessive use of slow-motion throughout the film that offset the climax scene, which used high-speed camera and CG. But overall, extremely well-directed and bold art house human horror mystery.

The movie addresses common social issues in Japan, such as bullying, abuse of child protection act, discrimination, and suicide from a whole new angle. ‘Confessions’, like many fine traditional Japanese films, is very emotionally draining, but keeps up the suspense throughout the film.

By taking lives so lightly and easily in the film, the director conveyed the true value of one’s life.

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~ by irwin on July 6, 2011.

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