The Third Murder, 2017.
Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda.
Starring Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Mikako Ichikawa, and Izumi Matsuoka.
A leading attorney takes on the defense of a murder-robbery suspect who was convicted for another murder 30 years ago. The chances of winning the case seem low – the client freely admits his guilt, despite facing the death penalty if he is convicted. However, as the case becomes examined, the man’s guilt is thrown into question.
The slippery notions of guilt and justice are at the heart of this compelling Japanese mystery-drama from the auteur Kore-Eda Hirokazu (After the Storm, Our Little Sister). The film manages to defy expectations by drawing the audience into a puzzle-box of lies, rumours, and guesswork, with an outcome that once looked so certain, becoming submerged in a quicksand of altered memory and prejudice.
We open on a gloomy dark night with the grim scene of a man- soon revealed to be Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) – bludgeoning another man to death and setting the body on fire. We are given a full close up of the man’s face, as if to say, remember this face, this really happened.
The film then draws us into the case itself, which pins on leading defense attorney Shigemori’s (Masaharu Fukuyama) struggle to clear his client and save him from the death penalty. This is not an easy thing, as Misumi has freely confessed to the murder and maintains that he is guilty. The facts seem clear; Misumi killed his boss and stole his wallet. The initial task for Shigemori is to highlight that it should be a charge of robbery, and not burglary, and whether it was a pre-meditated act or not. If he can show that the stealing of the wallet was the consequence of a heat of the moment act, and not a planned assault, he could reduce the charge, thereby saving his client from the death sentence.
It all becomes complicated pretty quickly. It transpires that Misumi has given an interview to a newspaper stating that his boss’s wife hired him to kill her husband. A large lump sum deposit in the accused’s bank account seems to point to something going on along these lines. There was also a blackmail plot involving the mislabeling of canned goods at the deceased work factory where Misumi worked. All elegant swerves of direction from Kore-Eda, who keeps the guesses coming from all areas, with the idea of Misumi being ‘an empty vessel’ for the emotion and desires of others a beguiling possibility.
The blurring of the lines between crime and justice seem to be Kore-Eda’s overall intention in this piece. The philosophical nature of the filmmaker’s work is here shown in an icy treatise on the nature of truth, and how the closer you look the further away it becomes. The tense interplay between the two leads is fraught with confusion and is a captivating battle of trying to ascertain the reality of the situation. In one amazing scene the two place their palms on the prison interview room glass, and Misumi whispers “shall I guess what you’re thinking?” It acts as a challenge to both Shigemori, and the audience as well.
This is a cold film – given a visual chill not only with the northerly Hokkaido location, but also in terms of the pacing and mood. The Third Murder does not have any of the light comedic touches of Kore-Eda’s previous work. Instead, what we have is a dark and sombre crime story, calling into question the validity of the legal system, and our ability to understand motivation, culpability, and truth itself.
THE THIRD MURDER directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu will be in UK cinemas 23rd March
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.