Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Writer: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Suzu Hirose, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka, Yuki Saito, Kōtarō Yoshida, Isao Hashizume, Kōji Yakusho
Running time: 124 minutes
Japanese auteur Kirokazu Kore-eda's latest film is a break away from his usual gentle family-centric dramas instead opting for a complex murder mystery legal thriller.
Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has beaten and killed an industrialist. He turns himself in and confesses to the crime. The case could not be more straightforward until defence attorney Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu) arrives, determined to do all he can help his client avoid the death penalty. Challenging assertions, seeking out inconsistencies and refusing to take anything at face value, he seeks to obscure the truth in order to save his client. (Glasgow Film Festival)
Kore-eda is undoubtedly one of the finest Japanese directors working today. His films have been consistent and received praise at film festivals from critics and fans alike. However, in spite of this, he has never managed to become one of the well-known Asian directors whose name is known worldwide to more of a mainstream audience like Miike or Kitano.
The Third Murder has performed very well in Japan; it did well at the box office and recently went on to win six awards at the 41st Japan Academy Prize. Including three big awards for Kore-eda himself for Director of the Year, Screenplay of the Year and Best Editing of the Year. It also took home the main award for Picture of the Year, as well as Best Supporting Actor (Koji Yakusho) and Best Supporting Actress (Suzu Hirose).
But is it any good? Short answer, yes. Is it as good as Kore-eda Hirokazu's other work? Short answer, no.
The film opens with Misumi played by veteran actor Koji Yakusho gruesomely murdering a man at night with a hammer. It's a startling introduction, and it informs the viewers they aren't in for a typical whodunit type of film. Instead, Kore-eda uses his slow-paced meditative style to unwrap a complex narrative of why he committed murder. There are many different theories and ideas placed throughout the film which will leave most viewers with different beliefs as they try to piece it together for themselves.
The script is expertly handled with the courtroom scenes and the scenes with lawyers interviewing witnesses really bringing the film to life with its sheer honesty and brutal reality. In preparation for making The Third Murder, Kore-eda brought together seven lawyers over several months and had them do mock interviews with a criminal and stage mock trials while he observed and studied their thought process and language. This idea paid off extremely well as it all feels incredibly accurate.
Some of the greatest scenes of the film involved the lawyer Shigemori interviewing Misumi behind security-glass. These would involve long takes with little to no camera movement with everything focusing on the characters facial expressions. Sometimes he would frame the scene where you could only see one of the faces and the other was just a reflection in the glass. This all adds the emphasis to how important these discussions are for the lawyer and just how frustrating it is for him to try to get to the bottom of this mystery as Misumi constantly changes his version of what happened.
Suzu Hirose actually shot to fame back in 2015 with her starring role in another Hirokazu Kore-eda film Our Little Sister. She was only 16 at the time of release but managed to deliver a stunning performance. Now, at the still young age of 19, she has somehow managed to improve leaps-and-bounds. If there is one actor or actress in Japan that I was to tell you to keep your eye on, it would be Suzu Hirose. I believe she is going to have an exciting future in the film business.
The only downside to the story is a subplot with Shigemori's daughter slows down the pacing of the film and can get a little muddy as the story overlaps with some similarities to Misumi's own story. The film might also be a little too 'talky' for mainstream viewers, which could turn them off before we get to the exciting climax. For those who are familiar with Kore-eda's filmography then this shouldn't be an issue at all.
The Third Murder tackles some interesting points and asks compelling questions about the legal justice system and the death penalty, which is still legal in Japan. Kore-eda may have written this as some social commentary towards these issues, as the ideas and themes will definitely linger in your mind long after you have finished watching.
Written and reviewed as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018