JAPAN 2010 Directed by: Tetsuya Nakashima Written by: Tetsuya Nakashima Novel by: Kanae Minato Produced by: Yuji Ishida, Genki Kawamura, Yoshihiro Kubota, Yutaka Suzuki Cinematography by: Masakazu Ato, Atsushi Ozawa Editing by: Yoshiyuki Koike Music by: Toyohiko Kanahashi Cast: Takako Matsu, Masaki Okada, Yoshino Kimura, Mana Ashida, Kaoru Fujiwara, Kai Inowaki, Sora Iwata, Daichi Iwata, Daichi Izumi, Karin Kato, Takuya Kusakawa, Ayaka Miyoshi, Hiroki Nakajima, Yukito Nishii, Hotaru Nomoto, Rena Nonen, Naoya Shimizu, Tsutomu Takahashi, Makiya Yamaguchi, Kasumi Yamaya, Ayuri Yoshinaga
Life’s not always butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes it’s so-so, then you die. When a teacher’s daughter drowns in the pool of a school it is ruled as an accident. But at the end of the term, and at the end of her engagement at that school, Yuko Moriguchi, the teacher (played by Takako Matsu) reveals to her class that it wasn’t an accident, but cold-blooded murder indeed, committed by underage students who are in the room now. Without naming the culprits she meticulously goes into every detail of the bloody deed and her findings, knowing that the murderers cannot be punished as they are protected by the very law that should actually put them behind bars. Finally, at the end of her revelations, it turns out that she has decided to take the law into her own hands and avenge her daughter’s death in an unorthodox, yet very efficient way. But what’s a shock for the culprits as much as for the classmates is just the beginning of a vicious game with unpredictable outcome.
Yuko Moriguchi’s confession (in one of the most memorable openings of any movie I believe) is just the first of many to follow. KOKUHAKU is structured episodically with each confession concentrating on one of the main characters. The movie finishes on a high, with a climatic ending that will definitely blow you away. KOKUHAKU is an enormously satisfying and intense viewing experience, from the first frame until the credits start rolling, not least thanks to the very sophisticated script (based on the equally sophisticated novel by Kanae Minato), a superior plot engine as well as meticulous direction, cinematography and editing.
Despite many trademark features of revenge flicks or Japanese end-of-the-world movies KOKUHAKU is more of a theological discussion on the values in life, and the worth of life itself. It also debates the state of the nation and the future of Japanese society, which could as well be a universal discourse applicable to any other place out there. Choosing the form of a psychological drama KOKUHAKU is also, or first and foremost, a nail-biting thriller, even if most of it is dialogue, not action.
The dark and sinister world of KOKUHAKU is the perfect place for broken characters and leaves little room for normality as we know (knew) it. It is not easy to identify with any of the figures, mostly we tend to agree with what Yuko is doing, but the way the script portrays the villainous characters is rich, brilliant, borderline genius. The fascination even for the most despicable person is one of the outstanding achievements of KOKUHAKU, and the way the film finds a lyrical tonality to describe evil reminds of Bret Easton Ellis. You can feel the presence of the literary source throughout.
Good and bad seem like twins in KOKUHAKU, but eventually you will realize that they actually don’t exist. The longer you search for the thin red line that divides the two, the more the movie points towards a possible conclusion, the more you come to understand that good and bad are concepts based on human belief, and they exist only as far as society replicates these values through its members day in, day out. But what happens in KOKUHAKU is that there is no one left to believe in anything, and society evaporates right in front of our eyes, because good and bad are all the same to all of them and so they cease to exist.
The same happens to the concept of revenge: it requires a specific angle to work, and that angle is very hard to find in a world without values, norms or any form of social fabric, a world, where suicide is a commodity, if not a blessing, for many. Eventually, Yuko gets her revenge, makes the murderers’ existence take a turn for the vaguely complicated and brings them down to their knees, almost – or really – lose their minds. Or so it seems. “I’m just messing with you”, those are the last words she says to one of them, and they are also the last words of the movie that’s been messing with us all along, but not without a point.
KOKUHAKU does not promote eye-for-an-eye mentality, and neither does it leave judgment to the lord or into whose jurisdiction this responsibility falls in your case. It’s essentially humanism against nihilism, with humanism winning at the end against this overwhelming urge to succumb to the same sick logic that teenager tries to seed.
Does all that change the world we live in? I am not certain. Does it make us understand why and how society can fall apart? Yes. Does it make sure that we won’t let some deranged adolescents piss all over us? Absolutely. KOKUHAKU is a battle cry: it’s the last line of defense against ignorance, stupidity and people or attitudes that are just totally fubar. I hope I did not forget to mention that KOKUHAKU is also a truly exceptional movie, in every aspect. I’m not messing with you.
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