I continue to count Asian filmmakers as the bravest and most compelling working in cinema today. As Hollywood continues to withdraw into a bunker of blandness, taking almost no chances, Asian directors regularly push the boundaries of cinematic convention in new, dynamic and often delirious directions. The latest home run comes from Japanese director Tetsuya Nakashima, whose adaptation of Kanae Minato’s best-selling novel, Kokuhaku (aka: Confessions) tells the story of a young teacher, Yuko Moriguchi, and her diabolical revenge against the two 13-year-old boys she accuses of murdering her little girl.
Confessions might just be the best horror film I’ve ever seen, if you could even call it that. It dives head first into the very darkest corners of the human psyche and constructs a brilliant tale about the blackest variation of an act of revenge imaginable. It is the antithesis of (and a perfect antidote to) the utterly bizarre world of perfect North American children and helicopter parenthood. If you have children under the age of 15, give this film a wide berth because it deconstructs and stomps all over everything you probably hold dear. It offers a mercilessly bleak view of mankind. It’s also a masterpiece of modern filmmaking.
Warning: some modest spoilers follow, so if you intend to watch the film, go in as blind as possible.
In a truly remarkable opening sequence, a soft-spoken teacher quietly tells her class that she will leave at the end of term. She goes on to explain, with absolute calm, that her daughter’s recent death wasn’t an accident and that the perpetrators of it were two of the 13 year old’s in the classroom. The scene lasts nearly 30 minutes and during that time, I barely took a breath. It’s mesmerizing filmmaking, the kind that makes your body tense and muscles ache. When the scene was over, I thought the movie was as well, but this is just the first step in a labyrinth of other confessions, each revealing some new twist in the tale.
Technically, the film is spectacular. The editing is intricate and intoxicating, the soundtrack full of Radiohead, The xx, the Japanese noise band Boris and other iconic pop and emo tunage. The cinematography looks like it was shot by the BBC’s natural history documentary division. The direction is impeccable and every single scene demands and holds your attention. Confessions was Japan’s entry into the best foreign picture category at the Oscars this year, but the Academy wisely passed because there’s simply no way that a film of this magnitude and brute force could ever find an audience outside died-in-the-wool, hardcore cinephiles.
Over the course of the film, writer/director Nakashima focuses on a multitude of people who, in one way or another, were involved in (or affected by) the daughter’s death. Since this exploration involves the killers themselves, the film enters some very evil places, unflinchingly exploring the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Yuko’s vengeance is made all the more gut-wrenching because she knowingly relies on these same human flaws to facilitate the unwittingly collusion of the young killer’s contemporaries in her final act of revenge. I’ve never seen a film like Confessions. Despite that fact that it isn’t a particularly gory or graphic film, Nakashima sets a new benchmark with Confessions that I will subsequently measure all horror and revenge films against. One thing’s for sure, this one won’t get remade by Hollywood.
They don’t have the guts.