Watching this intensely moving Japanese revenge drama, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the James Bulger murder which shocked and horrified the British nation back in 1993, as both deal with the murder of a child by two sociopathic youngsters. But while the Bulger case lies firmly in reality, Confessions takes its cue from fiction.
Working from a popular novel, director Tetsuya Nakashima has fashioned a stylish and emotionally fraught drama about a grieving mother who hatches an insidious plan to pay back those responsible for the death of her beloved daughter.
Hidden Blade actress Takako Matsu plays middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi who, on the day of her resignation, reveals to her boisterous class her daughter Manami was killed by two of her pupils. In an act of revenge, she admits she has injected HIV contaminated blood into the milk cartons of the two students whose identities she slowly reveals before dismissing the class for the last time.
But that’s not the end of Moriguchi’s quest for vengeance. What follows, as an enthusiastic new teacher takes over, is the aftermath of the actions of the two murderers set out in a series of confessions from the culprits, their parents, Moriguchi and other students involved. The result is a gripping and thought-provoking tale that questions laws in Japan that allow children who openly commit crimes to escape justice, while poking a finger at a world that is becoming unstuck with regards to its humanity.
Styled like the über cool Virgin Suicides, Confessions is achingly beautiful to watch. With its perfect close-ups, slow-mo’s and cleverly chosen music (Radiohead and The XX provide the score), the film resembles a gorgeously constructed art tome set to celluloid. And these constructs only serve to heighten the emotion that carries throughout the film thanks to Matsu’s powerful central performance.
It’s a tad heavy going and a little slow in parts, due to the dense scripting and the multiple voices involved in the telling of the tragic tale, but there are a couple of surprises in store once the two culprits are revealed – especially the power play between the murderers (which recalls the famed Leopold and Loeb case of 1924), and the rigging of the explosives at the school (à la Heathers).
Darkly impressive, Confessions is a nihilistic look at today’s youth set in a world that really is stranger than fiction.