Tetsuya Nakashima, director of Kamikaze Girls (2004) and the highly acclaimed Memories of Matsuko (2006), is commonly known for his rather more upbeat, colourful comedies. Confessions, based on a popular novel by Japanese author Kanae Minato, is a much darker affair, as a tale of revenge told through a series of confessions from interlinking characters.
The opening confession is by schoolteacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu). Speaking to the class while her unruly students text, scream and fight around her, she tells them that the cause of the death of her young daughter—an incident assumed by the police to be accidental—was actually murder, by two in the class. Referring to them as Student A and Student B, she announces how she will take her revenge.
The story of how these events came about unravels through a series of confessions from the other key characters, notably the students involved. Although initially hiding behind a façade, the weaknesses of the killers are gradually exposed and exploited to cruel effect as Moriguchi‘s plan comes into play. And despite the film containing moments of strong physical violence, it’s the psychological violence that is key here, with some staggering emotional cruelty as characters reach breaking point.
Whereas Nakashima’s films are usually full of colour, Confessions is shot with a slightly muted palate, which adds to the sombre tone. With occasional moments of slo-mo, especially of the photogenic youths, this at times resembles Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), only with the cruelty ramped up. The soundtrack, ranging from Radiohead to Japanese experimental metal band Boris, plays quite a part too, suiting the general air of melancholy, while the performances are generally excellent from the young cast and adults alike.
A film which carries themes of revenge, peer pressure, bullying and obsession with fame (among others that I‘ll avoid mentioning for fear of spoilers), Confessions is a cruel indictment on contemporary Japanese youth and their apparent despondency, which unravels its cruel web satisfactorily and with a streak of black humour. This is a highly enjoyable piece of work which will hopefully see director Nakashima heading into darker territory more often. It’s got a zinger of an ending line, too.
Confessions is available on DVD and Blu-ray now