The Third Murder Review
The Third Murder is a crime thriller from Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda and appears as something of an unexpected left turn in the director’s career. For the past decade he has developed a reputation for crafting slow burning family dramas, building a committed fan base who have become accustomed to his semi-social realistic style. Perhaps a change of pace was a little overdue and while that should always be applauded, the results are rather more lacklustre. The same dialogue heavy approach that has cemented his status in modern day world cinema is applied to this case of whodunnit, eventually tying itself into a mess of knots it cannot untangle.
Initially there seems to be little doubt over who may have killed a factory boss on the banks of a desolate canal late at night. Misumi (played by the always wonderful Kôji Yakusho) wipes the blood across his cheek and heads to the nearest police station to confess. His defence team, led by Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama - who starred in Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son), face an uphill task as Misumi continues to change his story from one day to the next. With the trial slowly approaching Shigemori digs deeper into the case and it begins to appear as if the defendant may not be guilty at all.
Much of the time is spent sitting in on meandering exchanges between lawyer and client which eventually begin to test your patience. With so many flips back and forth over Misumi’s guilt it eventually comes to light that Kore-eda is less interested in the actual murder and more concerned about the complicit nature of those involved in overseeing a criminal trial. This spins off into a number of interesting ideas about the death penalty, the justice system and the many gaps and flaws that appear while pursuing standard legal ‘process’. And yet, these are never examined as thoroughly as they should be, instead becoming lost in a mire of contrived plot mechanics that lead us towards a tired, conventional final act.
To compound matters further, suggestions of a supernatural involvement linger awkwardly in the air, which not only undercuts the laborious procedural elements that take up so much time, but verge on the patently ridiculous. No fault can be found with any of the cast members who do well to tackle a script that must have weighed an absolute ton upon delivery. Mikiya Takimoto, who has shot a small handful of Kore-eda’s recent films, also provides some nice visual touches to compliment the director’s blurring of the legal lines.
There can be no complaints about a director brave enough to take themselves out of their comfort zone to attempt something new. The Third Murder may not be a success but at the very least Kore-eda has the nerve to try. It’s just unfortunate that on this occasion chronic pacing issues and a convoluted plot bog down a film that appeared to have much more potential. Kore-eda is currently in post production putting the final touches to Shoplifters which is released in Japanese cinemas this June. It looks set to be a return to the safe haven of family drama, putting the misstep of The Third Murder firmly behind him.