by Thomas Harris.
Hirokazu Kore-eda follows in a long tradition of humanist auteurs: Yahijuro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, Ken Loach, Hou Hsiao-hsien – filmmakers more concerned with the intricacies of emotion than the grandiose.
His previous four films, a spectacular series of dissections concerning family life amidst middle class Japan are quietly, and rather remarkably moving. Both Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister find families shaken by the reappearance of a child. The former, a middle class family find out their child was swapped at birth with that of a working class family, the latter; the sudden appearance of their younger sister. Yet neither dwells on the monolithic change in their life, instead on the shift in emotional balance.
So to hear of Kore-eda tackling a crime procedural thriller feels alien. Although broader in its twists and oft-messy plotting, it’s again built around conversations, the relationships between fathers and daughters.
Kôji Yakusho stars as Misumi, recently released from prison following a lengthy conviction for a double murder. His release is cut short as he bludgeons the factory president of his place of work to death before stealing is wallet. Regular Kore-eda collaborator Masahuru Fukayama is his state defender, Shigemori.
The state hope for capital punishment, but Shigemori believes the case to be more complicated than simply open/closed, and hopes Misumi to reveal something more.
The murder itself is the least interesting thing about the film and Kore-eda makes it evidently clear that he himself cares little about the violence. Conversations between Misumi and Shigemori are long and winding, built around revelations that only feel like revelations once the credits have come to a close.
In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, these would feel artificial and staged, more theatrical than it is cinematic. Kore-eda however understands the importance of conversation. The final meeting between Misumi and Shigemori is maybe Kore-eda at his most cinematic. Cinematographer Mikiya Takamoto blurs the line of guilt through reflection, allowing both to be on the same side of the frame. The film holds back everything and this small moment feels grandiose amidst the hushed whispers.
Fukayama, as ever, is remarkable: a conflicted workaholic trying valiantly to stay afloat. The fear of losing the case seems to be of little care, but the why of the murder is his biggest concern.
Yakusho too is brilliantly multi-faceted. Although admitting his guilt early on, he plays with Shigemori’s need for absolute certainty, admitting to things he may or may not have done, changing his story throughout with aplomb.
Kore-eda has previously discussed class inequality in I Wish and Life Father, Life Son, but The Third Murder feels like his most apparent criticism of modern Japan, in particular the judicial system and the frank use of capital punishment.
Whilst certain twists and turns often lack any real punch and it becomes bloated during the final third, The Third Murdermanages to build an impressive amount of complexity with what little it has.
A slight detour for Kore-eda, but a welcome one at that.
The Third Murder is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!