David Fincher is hard to replicate, let alone found in another director with a style even remotely similar to his work. His iconic dark imagery, noir overtones, long, foreboding camera shots, and artistic license has garnered millions of fans worldwide. However, over in Japan, a director named Tetsuya Nakashima seems to have done just that with his 2010 film, “Confessions (Kokuhaku)”.
The Vengeful Teacher
“Confessions” is a non-linear story about a middle school teacher named Ms. Moriguchi, and her last day of class as a teacher. Instead of the typical, tearful goodbye one might expect between a teacher and her students, she lectures her unruly brood about appreciating life, culminating in the reveal that two of her students murdered her young daughter. The rest of the film branches out in the fallout of this dramatic reveal, as tension between the classmates rises, and the two guilty parties deal with the aftermath of their actions and their initial motivations for the murder. It’s a film that seems to work backwards, where the perpetrators are revealed right away, leaving the audience to decide where to place their sympathy.
A majority of the film addresses a social issue in Japan, wherein children under 14 – 15 years old are rarely punished for serious crimes. Instead of jail-time or juvenile delinquent centers, they are “rehabilitated” and released, even those who have committed murder. Ms. Moriguchi is loathe to let these two students get away with their heinous crime due to their age, and so plays with their emotions until it drives them mad. And that’s where the beauty of this psychological thriller lies.
Why Don’t We See More of This in Hollywood?
Given the ages of the students in question, it would be difficult for a film like this to gain any traction in mainstream American movie theaters. Killer kids have a place in goofy horror films, but serious portrayals of sick-minded kids do not. The MPAA would have a field day. However, the sheer styling of the film, as well as the gripping, psychological story, would be enough to satisfy any David Fincher fan. And that’s why I recommend it for all to view.
Every shot was chosen carefully, from the framing of characters, to the cinematography, to the background music. There’s even some creepy Radiohead that reverberates in some scenes with an unbelievably melancholy tone. We put our trust in this director, and are guided with a gentle hand through some of the worst days of these character’s lives. The sheer gumption of this film, coupled with the beautiful cinematography and compelling characters, blew my mind upon first viewing. It’s practically Shakespearean in its brutality, crude humor, and dramatic tension.
A lot of Fincher’s styling has the impression of the viewer getting a glimpse of something they should not be seeing (or in the case of “Se7en”, the viewer interpreting grisly acts through the evidence left behind). We see secret conversations, behind closed doors, in the middle of crime scenes, and more. This same approach is applied in “Confessions”, as we are welcomed into the contorted minds of these characters and their deepest, darkest secrets (hence the title name). What’s more, it’s a film that unravels all sorts of story threads, only to tie it all up into a nice, twisted bow by the last shot of the film. Nothing is left undone, a complete, connected story that you rarely see in films today. I have this to say as well – the ending of “Confessions” is phenomenal, similar in tension and resolution to the sterling ending of “Se7en”. It’s an “oh-shit-I-didn’t-see-that-coming” kind of ending that makes you want to shake the director’s hand.
Asian Cinema is Alive and Well
I’ve already reviewed “The Man From Nowhere”, a Korean thriller, and now I add “Confessions” to the list of Asian cinema that deserves your attention. Along with the likes of Akira Kurosawa and Wei Lo, I can’t stress enough how this genre of film deserves our attention. And in Japan some of the most beautifully animated films of our lifetime are produced there, thanks to the likes of Studio Ghibli and Bones, among many others. Pop in “Confessions” during your next movie night and see for yourself how styles of film echo across all continents.