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The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017

Posted by keith1942 on April 7, 2018

This is the new film from Koreeda Hirokazu. Whilst it is not his best title it is the best new release that I have seen so far this year. The story is rather different from those of his well-known family dramas though it is thematically linked to them through the focus on fathers. As the title suggests the film explores a killing. Misumi (Yakusho Kôji) has been arrested and charged with the murder and robbery of his former employer, Yamanaka: seen only briefly in a depiction of the murder. Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) is a lawyer recruited onto the defence team. Misumi has previously been in prison for a double murder committed thirty years earlier. Shigemori’s task is not to clear Misumi but to reduce the charge of murder and burglary to murder and theft, the lesser charge likely to save him from the death penalty.

Whilst the plot seems to be a legal drama the focus is equally on the relationship between lawyer and suspect. Shigemori investigates not just the circumstances of the crime but the background of Misumi and of the family of the victim. All three men [accused, lawyer, victim) are fathers with a daughter. Misumi and Shigemori both hail from the northern province of Hokkaido, though both left there years before. And both suffer from guilt feelings over their family failures.

When Shigemori joins the legal team his colleague Settsu Daisuke (Yoshida Kotaro) tells him that Misumi is unreliable, confessing to the murder but changing his account of this several times. The lawyer suffers a similar experience when he interviews his client. And he finds that the victim’s family members , the wife Yamanaka Mitsue (Saito Yuki) and daughter Yamanaka Sakie (Hirose Suzu), also change their accounts of the background to the crime.

The location of the murder and the trial escaped me but a colleague [Trevor Norkett] identified the settings. The main story is set in coastal city of Kawasaki, south west and not that distant from Tokyo. A second setting is in a suburb of the Tokyo Metropolis, Chōfu. It seems the actual crime was committed on the banks of the Tama River, which runs close to Kawasaki and on to Tokyo. However, both Shigemori and Misumi originally come from Hokkaido, a northern island and prefecture, noted for its cold and wintry climate: Tokyo and Kawasaki are in central japan with milder climates. Shigemori’s father, Shigemori Akihisa (Hashizume Isao), is a retied judge who actually presided over the trial of Misumi for the earlier murders. In discussions with his son the judge regrets not imposing the death penalty at the time. Shigemori visits Hiroo and then Rumoi, the latter a small sub-prefecture where the earlier murders occurred. He fails though to find Misumi’s daughter who has moved away. We do see her in a flashback by Misumi, with them both lying in the snow. She, like Sakie, has a disabled leg. And a shot of Misumi and Sakie in the snow in another flashbacks emphasises the parallel between the two women.

As the film progresses the focus closes in slowly but surely on the two men, lawyer and accused. Whilst other characters are interesting it seems that their function is to illuminate the standpoint of the two fathers. Shigemori is separated and has a fourteen year old daughter. We only see her briefly but it is clear that Shigemori feels guilty about failing her. Thus there is a rapprochement between the two leads which follows from their roles as fathers. Here the film continues the thematic concentration in Koreeda’s work on families. In his films families demonstrate a line of dialogue given to Shigemori by his judge/father, that even family members do not really know their own: applicable to the memorable Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, 2008).

The plot actually works more like a legal thriller than a family drama. In an online interview Koreeda made the following comments:

So, I was talking to a friend, who is a lawyer, one day and in Japan the truth is that the court is not a place where the truth is pursued. The lawyer was saying, “yeah it’s kind of a problem that we are not pursuing to find out the truth of what’s happened.” So, I asked him “what was it that he did?” and he said, “we’re there to make adjustments to the conflict of interest.” I mean, I don’t know if addressing the conflict of interest is more of a common way of thinking in the west, but many people in Japan, they believe that the court is the space in which the right thing is done and the truth is pursued. So, there was a gap between what the lawyer was telling me and how the Japanese public perceives it. With that as a backdrop, in which the courts, really, are just trying to say you’ve got a conflict of interest, how can we remedy that or adjust it or fix it or something like that. Going from that and saying, “okay, what would happen if a lawyer really started wanting to know the truth?”

The search for truth and meaning is a recurring theme in the films. The developing relationship between lawyer and client, one that sees the lawyer increasingly treating Misumi as an equal person, leads to a possible grasping of the truth of the crime. Only possibly because right to the end the film maintains the ambiguities of testimony and recollection.

Koreeda scripted, directed and edited the film. It has a different rhythm from his family dramas. There are still the long shots and long takes but the cutting is at time relatively fast. The cinematography, in colour and an i/scope frame, by Takimoto Mikiya is very effective. There is excellent use of the full letter-box. There are some splendid night-time sequences with the changing reflections from a fire. At several points there are dramatic overhead shots which point up our observation of the protagonists. And then at the climax and resolution of the film there is a long superimposition which looks great and which suggests what may underlie the characters’ actions. The music by Einaudi Ludovico fills out the drama and characterisations. Whilst generically the film seems to be a court room drama Einaudi’s frequent use of a piano, along with a guitar and electronic instruments, concentrates our attention for much of the time on the psychology of the characters.

The film was shot digitally and looked fine on the DCP I saw. In Britain the film is distributed by Arrow and it was a better transfer than their earlier Une Vie (2017) though that was from 35mm. Unfortunately the film seems to have very limited release: I saw it in Sheffield. There is only one venue screening in Leeds. Given the quality of the recent output by Koreeda Hirokazu this does seem to be a failure by exhibitors.

 

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One Response to “The Third Murder / Sandome no satsujin, Japan 2017”

  1. […] thought, along with Sweet Country (Australia, 2017), that this is the most impressive new release so far in 2018. The film was shot in a digital format and has transferred very well to DCP. The […]

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