The saying goes; ‘no parent should ever outlive their child’ and for Junior high school teacher Yuko Moriguchi, this was a reality that she must now live in for the rest of her days. Being a single parent in the modern world of teaching, her husband stricken by HIV/AIDS, Mrs. Moriguchi was in constant state of battle. Doing her best to care for her daughter while also continuing to be the outstanding civil servant she has worked so hard to become. Manami, her daughter, was lucky to have been born into a family with a strong matriarch like Yuko Moriguchi. Through tough times and hardship, Yuko stood tall in the hopes that she could raise her daughter in much the same way a ‘regular’ family could. It was hard for the dedicated teacher, having to bring Manami to parent-teacher interviews and late-night work sessions.
Manami was a happy young girl thanks to Yuko’s dedication. Because of his disease, Manami’s father was unable to be near her and spent his life with her at a distance. The tragedy that is to fall upon this family next is one that will pave the way into a life engulfed by sorrow. Waiting for her mother one afternoon while she finishes up an interview, Manami is killed. Found lifeless in the school’s pool, Manami is pronounced dead. For the first time in this young girl’s life…she is held by her father. Mrs. Moriguchi goes into a state of utter distress not entirely brought upon by the death of her daughter but by the knowledge that the ones who killed the girl were two of her students. Knowing exactly who the murderers are and being spurred on by a broken justice system that refuses to condemn minors, she dedicates herself to exacting revenge. One that will allow these kids, and the class they’re in, that life is not something that can simply be thrown away.
It is clear as to why ‘Confessions’ is a movie so critically acclaimed. Having won over ten awards since release, this movie essentially promises an experience unlike any other and I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that this is entirely truthful. The story alone is something audiences have never really seen before. Yes, there are plenty of films out there that focus on the themes of hatred and revenge but none so eloquently executed as ‘Confessions’. Critics tend to use the word ‘unravel’ when referring to a film’s story yet I never truly believed them when they would say it. I story doesn’t ‘unravel’, not all of them. Most stories are like rivers that flow from plot line to plot line but ‘Confessions’, well…it really did ‘unravel’. For the first time in my critical career I can truly say a story unraveled and believe it! There were countless times throughout ‘Confessions’ where I indeed believed the end was right around the corner. Even at around the forty-minute mark, it could have ended on a single word and made just as much an impact as if it had gone for the full hour and forty five minutes.
What made these ‘almost-endings’ great were that it did not simply rehash what he had already seen, nor did it tell us unnecessary facts about the story. It gave us more and more, allowing the audience to spiral into ‘pseudo-insanity’ alongside the characters. Takako Matsu played her role as Yuko Moriguchi flawlessly with nothing left to be desired. It was clear she was the protagonist of the story despite the fact that her actions seemed less-than-healthy. What made her the outstanding character/actress of the movie was the realistic take on a mother in mourning mixed with the exaggerated NEED for revenge. The way this character was portrayed almost made this seem…’normal’.
To go out and seek a kind of retribution from the killers of your daughter, Takao Matsu made it seem like the normal thing to do and she pulled it off perfectly. That’s not to say the other actors didn’t make their mark, most of the child cast did a great job at playing…children, with some of them clearly overacting. This took somewhat away from the movie, especially when we’re subjected to the repeated laugh of a young actor who clearly hasn’t grasped the true art known as ‘performance’. Thankfully for the overall experience, these less-than-perfect scenes are sandwiched by ones featuring actors and actresses who know how to make an impact on an audience.
‘Confessions’ was also awarded for featuring some of the best editing in cinema, this is something I cannot refute as it was clear that a lot of blood, sweat and tears were put into post-production. It was not just well-timed musical tracks or the transition between scenes, it was…everything. The film featured a terribly dark story, this is clear, but physically the film was dark. The use of bleak filters worked in favor of ‘Confessions’ with most, if not all, scenes preparing the audience for shock and awe. Something I generally love in movies and something that was done many times throughout ‘Confessions’ was ending a scene on a single line of dialogue and leaving the audience in a state of understanding before entering the new scene. This quick but elongated cuts allowed for us to fully appreciate the scene that just passed while also setting us up for what is to come.
Each and every scene went for a lot longer than your standard movie and followed the same path of a feature-length film. There was a gradual rise in each scene that ended climactically, a new scene then came along which did the same thing. This is not a case of ‘unnecessary repetition’, this was to drill points into the audience’s heads which resulted in utter understand and appreciation for the film. Something that helped ‘Confessions’ stand apart from other films, to me, was it’s soundtrack. That’s not to say the rest of the movie didn’t already cement itself in my mind as one of the best movies I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience, I just feel as though a movie is not complete without a perfectly suiting soundtrack and that is exactly what ‘Confessions’ had. It featured a contemporary set of tracks all which were clearly composed for one purpose; impact.
For once in my life I feel as though I can describe a film using nothing but one word and that world WOULD be ‘impact’. You leave the movie feeling as though there is a rock in your stomach made up of the repressed images and ideals of the movie that you wish to never ponder again and it’s so good! You’re constantly confronted by physical images of death alongside morally questionable situations, most of which will have you attempt to look away but never will you actually look away. ‘Confessions’ pushes audiences away with it’s graphic story but reels them back in with the promise of satisfaction.
There are an infinite number of parallel universes in existence and I can guarantee there’s not one where an audience member would EVER walk out on ‘Confessions’. With performances that beg for your attention and a storyline unlike many we’ve seen before, ‘Confessions’ clearly deserves all the accolades it has been awarded over the years. Unlike other pseudo-intellectual movies out there, ‘Confessions’ will truly have you doubting humanity and although that sounds terrible, it’s actually the best thing the movie could have done.
The film aired as part of the Japanese Film Fest Encore, for more information of the Japanese Film Fest check out the official site here.