The Third Murder Review
There is no doubt that Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of the best Japanese directors - if not the best - working today. His portraits of personal highs and lows show a beautiful intimacy of the human soul, tinged with humour that is rooted in truth. His latest film, Shoplifters, won the Palme d’Or and he will soon be making a feature with a more Western flavour; La Verite, with Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, and Catherine Denueve, about a couple who travel to France after the publishing of a tell-all autobiography. Until we get to see either of those projects we will simply have to make do with the film that won Kore-eda six Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Film. Legal drama The Third Murder is released today in a wonderful presentation from Arrow Academy.
A seemingly simple murder case is brought to court involving the murder of a factory owner by a disgruntled employee Misumi (Kōji Yakusho). Misumi has even confessed to the crime, although he keeps changing certain details, and faces execution if found guilty due to a similar offence years before. Lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is, at first, determined to remain detached but becomes increasingly obsessed with the details of the case and Misumi. There is also the question of what, if any, part the dead man’s daughter Sakie (Suzu Hirose) played in the crime.
This is a very cold film. The cold and blank environment of the interview room where Shigemori and Misumi have their conversations, the cold weather that is commented on throughout, the snow of Hokkaido where Misumi was born, and above all the search for the cold, hard facts, but in that final aspect as Shigemori uncovers more details, the more muddled things become. The drama unfolds in a way that is very measured, but deliberately so. We are given time to digest the information as Shigemori learns it along with all possible factors in Misumi’s case.
Whilst a crime drama may seem like a drastic departure from Kore-eda’s recent works it does still contain that key element of personal connection and humanity that makes those films so special and makes The Third Murder such a great and interesting puzzle to examine. The Japanese court system also operates in a way very different to other countries, sometimes more preoccupied with the easier to win answer than the full truth of the matter, and it is Shigemori’s, and by extension Kore-eda’s, turning away from this that drives the story forward. At times Shigemori and Misumi almost become reflections of each other; opposites but also with elements - particularly certain familial situations - that echo back and forth.
It all progresses and ends in a place that is entirely up to the viewer’s interpretation of events. As much as you can decide on one outcome there is enough evidence that you could easily come up with a different one. It’s something that in another film could be frustrating in the ambiguity but in Kore-eda’s hands ends up as a fascinating meditation on the nature of truth, helped in no small part by the fantastic cast. Masaharu Fukuyama has no easy feat carrying the movie as Shigemori and yet does so excellently, but it is stalwart of the Japanese cinema scene Kōji Yakusho who commits the crime of stealing every single scene.
Yakusho has been in a wide range of movies over the years from the quirky “Ramen Western” Tampopo to the works of Kiyoshi Kurosawa and the film adaptation of the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, although we won’t hold that last one against him. His performance of Misumi is both charismatic and enigmatic, drawing you in but leaving you feeling so unsure of what is going on in his head albeit with the hint that there is something very off about him. Also key to the film is young Suzu Hirose as Sakie. Hirose starred in Kore-eda’s joyful drama Our Little Sister but what we see here could not be more different, a calm surface that holds some potentially drastic and dark secrets.
Arrow Academy is known as a highly curated distributor of interesting foreign language and cult films (courtesy of their Arrow Video label) and this release is no exception. As well as the crisp picture and sound the Blu-ray offers up a Making Of feature, a video essay on the film by Asian film exert Tony Rayns which is good for clarifying a few aspects of the film that some may have trouble with, especially concerning the Japanese legal system. There is also a stills gallery, cast introductions to the film, and the original trailer. DVD viewers get all the same features but miss out on a special illustrated collector’s booklet that will be included in the Blu-ray’s first printing as well as the glorious high definition.
The Third Murder may not be what you may be expecting from a Hirokazu Kore-eda film, but it is absolutely worth seeking out as a mystery that is both different and will keep you turning it over long after it has finished.