If asked to briefly articulate on what this movie is about in one fell swoop, my answer would be that it primarily centers around a story of grief and revenge. What sets this apart from other movies with similar themes however is that it isn’t mainly reliant on gratuitous violence and brutality (even though it is quite gruesome at times). The type of retribution that’s displayed throughout this film is more calculated and devious, sort of like a game of cat-and-mouse.
This movie is directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, and is based on Kanae Minato’s novel, which bears the same name. It also was Japan’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards. The first character that we’re introduced to is Yuko Moriguchi (played by Takako Matsu), a junior high school teacher. At the final moments of class before the start of spring break, Moriguchi discloses to her students (who are raucous and barely even paying attention) that she’s resigning. During her lengthy farewell speech, she goes on to say that her four-year-old daughter, Manami, recently died by drowning in the nearby school swimming pool. But, the teacher is well aware that foul play was involved in the death of her daughter, and she says to the entire class that two students in her classroom are responsible for this heinous act. The suspects are given the labels, ‘Student A’ and ‘Student B’.
Some questions that might be on your mind are, what drove these students to take the life of an innocent child? or is their some details regarding Manami’s death that we might not be fully aware of as observers watching the scene unfold? Regardless of the answers that these students share to the class, Moriguchi is driven by pure malice and rage, and will not stop until the lives of the ones who killed her daughter are irrevocably turned upside down. The teacher doesn’t want them to die, she wants them to live in a constant state of fear and misery.
At first glance, the teacher might not appear to be a character who is going through a melancholic grieving phase because her facial demeanor and cadence is very calm and collected. But underneath the surface, it’s glaringly clear that her stoic exterior is all just an act. Takako Matsu gave an incredibly convincing and sinister performance in her role. She’s the kind of character I’d want to steer completely away from in real life.
The young actors who played the roles of the perpetrators did an excellent job acting with a lot of emotional conviction and subtlety, there are moments where I did feel sort of bad for them. I mean, they are essentially still children. But, I did also hate them at times as well. As conflicting thoughts may begin to percolate in your mind, we voyeuristically dig deep into these troubled characters’ personal lives and mental state of mind. These internal exposés are each shared through separate story arcs that segue into each other in a non-linear fashion.
One of my favorite qualities of this film is how well it instills a feeling of persistent anxiety and perturbation. While this movie isn’t really a horror film, I did find myself quite unnerved at times. You will definitely be quivering and intently watching on the edge of your seat due to the meticulous camerawork and a stirring soundtrack that features ambient noise and songs from bands like, Boris and Radiohead. Both of those bands happen to be some of my favorites, so it was a pleasant surprise hearing some of their tunes be implemented throughout this movie.
As the film draws to a close, you will leave feeling very conflicted, and you’ll be deeply questioning whether the decisions that some characters made were justifiable or not. This isn’t the kind of feature where you will be clearly siding with one individual since a lot of the things they do fall within a morally gray area. Furthermore, this film does touch on very personal matters regarding family dynamics and social commentary with regards to Japan’s criminal justice system, which is honestly something that I probably am not that well-versed in, but I still found it interesting.
All in all, Confessions is a solid movie. It is a very heart-rending and tragic tale that explores the deep-rooted tensions that can come to fruition within any individual at a period of loss, which in turn can lead them to commit terrible atrocities when they reach a breaking point. If you aren’t easily deterred by movies with disconcerting or uncomfortable subject matters, I’d highly recommend this movie.