The Third Murder – Film Review by Aisling Foster
Directed by Hirokaza Koreda
Stars: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Shinnosuke Mitsushima
If you like your films served up fast, flashy and well-wrapped, this one is not for you. I loved it. Here is film noir in the old style, a grainy, low budget, in-your-face whodunnit which leaves some sharp acting and a scalpel-sharp script to follow a twisty story to its uncertain end.
The film opens with a brutal murder in an industrial wasteland: a crooked businessman is battered and burned, his remains leaving a perfect black cross in the earth. Misumi (Koji Yakusho), the apparent murderer has killed twice before, crimes for which he has already served a thirty-year prison sentence. His easy confession looks like closing the case – and ending the film almost before it begins. Yet the state defender, Shigemori (Masharu Fukuyama) has doubts, especially when Misumi changes his story every time they meet and seems cheerfully unbothered about whether or not he will escape the death penalty this time round. Their prison interviews – each confrontation played like a game of philosophical ping-pong – are fascinating. Every word counts, whether spoken or left unsaid. Shot through reflective safety glass, their faces bounce and merge as the lawyer’s desperate suggestions for motive are met with more and more hard-hitting questions about truth, justice and the values of individual responsibility.
At first, Shigemori’s only hope is to dilute the evidence for the death penalty to a whole life prison sentence. Yet as his team dig deeper into the case, other possibilities emerge, throwing suspicion elsewhere, especially on the murder victim’s wife and their angry daughter.
Following those investigations through narrow streets and cramped houses we are led into small town Japanese life, a polite little world where bows and half smiles keep conflict at arms length. For the few women in the picture, good manners are always to the fore, the legal secretary flitting around her bosses like an idiot child and the female judge – the only woman on the bench – allowing herself to be overruled by a man’s whisper in her ear. Raised voices are rare, even in disagreement, so it is amusing how, whenever the defence team meet for an update, a cacophony of slurping, sucking and chomping over takeaways almost drowns out every quiet suggestion anyone tries to make.
The director is clearly making some tough comments about his own society and its law. I was just happy with what I saw – and even some signals I may have missed (what’s the significance of the crosses?) . Most of all one is struck by a cast of stand- out individuals who come a lot closer to life than most screens ever allow.