Confessions – Review

by Miguel Douglas


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On her final day as the teacher of her middle school class, Moriguchi makes a startling confession in front of them—that two students from her class were responsible for the murder of her young daughter. Contemplating the boundaries of the legal system and their handling of underage child suspects, she explains that it doesn’t allow for true justice to be served. Knowing full well the consequences of her confession though, the remainder of the class begins to exact vengeance upon the two young killers through the act bullying, with the killers own personal confessions coming to light as they deteriorate mentally and physically from the systematic abuse. Slowly revealing their crushing agony, Moriguchi plots her next move to initiate her final plan for ultimate revenge.

Based on the novel by author Minato Kanae, Confessions is a film that at first openly appears to be a lighthearted romp concerning the closing day of a junior high class, but behind this innocent exterior is a tale burgeoning with savage violence, horrifying secrets, and devastating retribution. The film’s director, Tetsuya Nakashima, is certainly no stranger towards offering viewers of his films such uniquely odd experiences. Often presenting highly stylized worlds that seem entirely plausible, but also existing within the realm of the abstract, Tetsuya’s films have rather successfully weaved their way around a variety of genres. This diversity of Nakashima’s works are certainly interesting to say the least, especially as a director who’s helmed the joyously comical Kamikaze Girls (2004), then the darkly sincere Memories of Matsuko (2006), only to finally return to a playful atmosphere with Paco and the Magical Book (2008). These chosen works have elevated Tetsuya’s stance consistently as an innovative and imaginative director, confidently returning to the dark ambience first viewed in Memories of Matsuko with his latest film Confessions. What’s unique about Confessions though is that Tetsuya has not only focused on delivering the film’s story in a distinctively creative fashion, but is also aware of its importance in establishing critical insight into the current state of Japan’s youth—and the dreadful facets that permeate its existence.

The film is essentially divided into multiple segments that all culminate in a darkly twisted tale regarding human cruelty and despair—but Tetsuya does something quite different here. With a deliberately slow opening scene detailing Moriguchi’s confessional act in front of the class—played here by the talented Takako Matsu—we see her question the morality of a legal system that restricts judgment on the crimes committed by individuals under the age of fourteen, the exact age of the individuals who have murdered her daughter. Facing this unfortunate realization, she cultivates a masterful plan that delegates the punishment of these individuals through the manipulation of their classmates; therein creating an approach that indirectly involves her participation. This is just the catalyst though, as the film begins to explore the disturbing secrets surrounding the lives of the students who committed the crime and their philosophies regarding humanity and life. Like the narrative of the film itself, the outward expressions of the students are but a mere façade attempting to cover the hideous truths that reside within them. Moriguchi, seen as an individual who once viewed her students as honorable members of society and free from the corruptive nature that often corresponds with adulthood, discovers the cruelty that exists even within the most seemingly innocent individuals. Tetsuya analyzes this dilemma with a keen eye, questioning our very notion of innocence and how it can be easily lost at an early age through unfortunate circumstances. The film expands upon this concept of lost innocence to include a variety of experiences that these individuals endure, effectively shaping and reforming their negative outlook on life.

And it’s this exploration of loss that remains a focal point of the film’s narrative. While the characters actions are sometimes viewed as senseless acts of depravity, Tetsuya weaves a film that submits these actions as motivated from some rational cause. These causes, which become better understood as the film progresses, all stem from some form of individual loss that promoted such destructive behavior. We begin to see that the unfortunate incidents that arise within their personal lives begin to manifest themselves in the most drastic of ways within their public lives. Tetsuya isn’t being apologetic towards such behavior, but he does present them as emotionally damaged individuals. The emotional stunting they face garners a significant hatred by them towards other people, more specifically that of adults, and we slowly realize that they take no responsibility for the hideous deeds they’ve committed—deeds that we often associate with adults. It comes at no surprise then that the film primarily showcases such hideous actions through the use of these adolescent teens, effectively removing their ability to appear as faultless individuals free from the guilt of their crimes. Becoming responsible for one’s actions—regardless of age—offers up a very powerful message, and one in which the film heavily promotes. In a broader sense, Tetsuya presents a darkly tale concerning the societal pressures faced by Japanese youth to conform despite advocating for their own individuality—no matter how disturbing it may be. This dichotomy is certainly well placed within a society that discreetly promotes the former over the latter, subduing the need for distinctiveness within the realm of academics and to an even larger extent society. The extremities that the characters within the film face usually derive from the need to gain some form of acceptance, however devastating the cost is.

As with Tetsuya’s previous works, Confessions is a visually stunning film that plays exceptionally well to the backdrop the film’s themes. Mired in nightmarish imagery and a gloomy ambience, the film is aesthetically engaging, with Tetsuya’s wonderful implementation of slow motion to heighten the effectiveness of certain scenes. Tetsuya brings some very surreal images to screen, enveloping the viewer into a world that resonates visually with the pain, deceit, and suffering of its characters. Similarly, Tetsuya’s adherence for a temperate lighting scheme reinforces the bleak nature of the film, as well as perfectly encapsulates the entirety of the film’s messages. To say that the film is melancholy in appearance is an understatement—it readily captures the emotional stance of these characters as they face such dire consequences. But while the look of the film is certainly remarkable, it could also prove to be detrimental in terms of viewership. Considering that the visual quality of the film is at such a high level, Tetsuya’s artistic craftiness may prove to be over utilized to some extent, but while it undoubtedly remains a marvelous technical achievement, it may distract some viewers who may find his exercising of such technical prowess a little redundant. For other though, this won’t present a problem and it will prove to be quite effective.

Perhaps Tetsuya’s most poignant film to date, Confessions is an emotionally draining cinematic experience. It’s a film that is a beautiful as it is dark, filled with critical social commentary that never dilutes the effectiveness of its story nor overshadows it. Tetsuya presents a world where vicious intentions reign supreme and where confronting truth is the only way to escape from its devastating grasp. The visceral nature of the film expounds upon these social dilemmas quite well, making sure to present them as problems that can easily be address if valuing of one’s life takes precedence over dominance, pride, and even death. While this may be too somber of a film for some viewers to digest, Confessions still captures the insolence and despair that young individuals unfortunately face within a modern society, pressured by the steady need to not pronounce one’s problems to others in order to fit in. Like the title of the film itself, Confessions exposes the deepest turmoil’s that unexpectedly exist within such individuals, which makes for a well-crafted and devastating cinematic exposé concerning youth—and further showcases Tetsuya Nakashima’s presence as one of the most talented Japanese directors today.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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  • Jin

    I remember watching this in theaters last summer. It was incredibly immersing film and I remember leaving the theater dazed. Matsu Takako played her vindictive part deliciously.

    I do have one trouble though with this film, or this kind of Japanese film: I can’t genuinely believe that Japanese kids are really so brilliantly intelligent or have such profound, emotional problems. Japanese filmmakers, or perhaps more generally Japanese storytellers, tend to have “chunibyo,” as the 2ch world calls it – they romanticize the depth of middle/high school kids, when in reality the problems and situations of school children are shallow and carefree. Death Note, meitantei conan / kindaichi shonen (and all those high school detective stories), and other such come to mind…

  • Miguel Douglas

    I agree with you on that Jin, and its especially noticeable within the realm of Japanese television drama series. I for one find it far-fetched in most cases, but I believe Confessions provided an excellent counterpoint towards this cliche seen within Matsu Takako’s role of Moriguchi, in which she expertly outwitted that of the supposedly “smarter” individual. This was far more believable than most films/dramas portray, but its certainly an aspect that is highly overplayed for the most part.

  • Steve R.

    I really enjoyed this movie. And, yes, Japanese kids are that brilliant compared to American kids.

  • Nano

    This movie was very strong on different levels. The actress, the actors, the story, and the direction all were wonderful. I watched so many times and each time my attention is drawn to a different character. wonderful movie I advise all to see it.