Confessions of a Dog Review
Meet family man Takeda (Shun Sugata), a lowly beat-cop with a physique likened to that of a bear, but who just so happens to have a heart of gold. After inadvertently impressing his superintendent, Takeda is soon offered a promotion within the Criminal Investigation Department. What starts out as a perfect opportunity to rise up through the ranks and provide for his wife (Harumi Inoue) and new-born child, soon turns into a situation of discomfort as Takeda learns of corruption within the force. However, his obligation toward his superior - which even extends to him naming Takeda’s daughter - prevents the detective from questioning his dubious orders. Finding his situation inescapable he goes along with the dirty aspects of his job as the years go by, unaware that he’s become the subject of an investigation being carried out by club-owner Kusama (Jun'ichi Kawamoto) and photographic journalist Kitamura (Kunihiko Ida), who are about to blow the lid on the force’s dark secrets to the national press.
Indie writer-director-producer Gen Takahashi has remained one of the Japanese movie scenes’ more low key figures, currently dividing his energy between his homeland and his Hong Kong-based production company, where he makes anything from short films and documentaries to features. Despite having enjoyed cult success over some earlier works his isn’t a name that’s been shouted to the heavens, at least not until this past year or so, and that’s with regards to a film which he completed back in 2005! Confessions of a Dog, which has enjoyed touring the festival circuit recently, has been touted as being one of the most controversial films to come out of Japan, further hyped with claims that it was banned in its own country for being so vocal against its subject. Somewhat ironic in this instance that the press should take something entirely out of context...
When it comes to exposing taboo issues in Japanese cinema, corruption within its judicial system and the manipulating of news events doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Part of this reason - if director Gen Takahashi is anything to go by - is that directly criticizing the police force just isn’t done. While plenty of other social themes have made their way into various Japanese outlets over the decades in order to incite awareness, assaulting police procedural practices was a rare thing, merely being a subject touched upon in the past through various Yakuza dramas and the like. Things started to open up during the the latter part of the 90s when one brave journalist stepped up to the plate and pleaded for a change in press/public relations. Freelance journalist Yu Terasawa had specialized in exposing police corruption; a job made all the more difficult due to his opposing of the ‘Kisha press club’ system. He argued that the symbiosis between the force and the press was a somewhat lazy one, that the police would dictate how every news story would play out for the cameras and newspapers, with a servile media batting no eyelids and a public seemingly oblivious that they were being taken for a ride. So widespread and perennial was this manipulation within the country that Terasawa would seek foreign help and spread his word online.
With help from Terasawa, then, Gen Takahashi - also drawing from personal experience - fiercely sets out to damn the powers of a law enforcement which he’s been so publicly vocal about despising. At 3 hours and 15 minutes, Confessions of a Dog [Pochi no kokuhaku] provides a harsh insight into the shady dealings of the police force and its press relations, and the deep frustrations felt by those trying to expose it. It may seem a daunting task to view at first, but the film is methodically constructed, allowing for its docile pacing to draw us in with ease. Our voice of distrust, Takahashi, doesn’t pull any punches; one of the more ambiguous things about his film is that its events aren’t based on any single case, but rather is built up of a heavy number of files that have been accumulated over an indefinite period of time. Evidently, then, this is the director throwing all of his cards onto the table, in one fell swoop seeing to it that no stone is left unturned. It certainly makes for juicy drama: planted evidence, rape, murder, drugs, extortion, bribery and mob dealings are just a taster of what Confessions of a Dog has to offer, and certainly it’s outrageous enough - however questionable it may seem - to hold our attention for such a duration. This is in great part due to three terrific performances, whereby our head officer and pursuing journalists face difficult moral decisions. It all builds up to a well staged climax, designed to burrow into the viewers brain and leave them pondering its words long after the credits have rolled.
However, despite any tension that the film might carry, it remains an emotionally distant affair. An unremittingly cold feature, its weakness resides in a lack of focus toward characterizing its central players, especially that of Shun Sugata’s. Riding the wave of controversy is fine, but Takahashi seems to demonstrate little care for much else over the more pressing matters at hand. Such a thing can be evidenced in his glossing over a five year gap whereby Takeda has become a shadow of his former self; a man who has betrayed his once proud ideals and his loving family in favour of adhering to a skewed form of patriotism. There are moments briefly strewn throughout that examine the awkward nature of entwined family and working lives, an intrinsic part of Japanese culture where traditional values and the peoples’ respect toward their peers could be deemed just as problematic, but the overall lack of important character building makes it difficult for the viewer to fully sympathise (in particular) with the self-destruction of yes-man Takeda. It seems that such an obtuse act may be Takahashi’s intention, forcefully hammering home his point of an exploited society that’s too afraid to face confrontation; repeatedly referring to the public as “idiots” as he all but pinpoints the blame on a nation so blasé and submissive toward most aspects of everyday life that it has allowed such amoral behaviour to continue. Confessions of a Dog might not help us to understand such a deep psychosis, what with its blunt attitude, but then by the looks of things it doesn’t appear that the director wanted to do much beyond highlighting that this sort of thing exists in the world. Indeed it does, but the question I suppose is who’s really listening?
The master supplied to Third Windows Films isn’t up to the best of their fare, but it’s serviceable all the same. A standards conversion, the image exhibits the usual combing and ghosting foibles, with a permeating softness to match the rather drab colour scheme. Hardly surprising that Gen Takahashi doesn’t want to paint a pretty picture, but when the problems add up it leads to little enthusiasm. Contrast is high, black levels tend to get murky and edge enhancement is a consistent deterrent. It’s presented anamorphically at 1.85:1.
Sound is likewise unremarkable. The sole track provided is a Japanese 2.0 mix which is far too low, requiring volume levels (in my case) to be boosted almost twice as high in order to hear a lot of dialogue. The company has informed me that given the film’s situation of being practically forgotten, it’s another case of take what you can get. At least it’s out there in some form. Subtitles are fine
No need to go wanting, as Third Window has ensured we get a decent selection of material. Most of the stuff on the disc is interview related, from a brief one-on-one to an audience Q&A. There are enough differences in questions to make both worthwhile viewing, with an upfront Takahashi explaining the difficulties faced in bringing his story to life, his work with Yu Terasawa and his intentions for the film, and revealing how certain scenes were achieved. Also included is a 40 minute behind the scenes look at the making of the film.