Sandome no satsujin – The Third Murder

Director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s more recent films have been family focused (After the Storm, Like Father Like Son, Our Little Sister) exploring broken relationships and human frailty. With The Third Murder however, Kore-eda has returned to much larger questions of life’s purpose and what it means to be a human being, in the vein of Air Doll and After Life.

The film opens with a murder, followed by sweeping drone views of a water-side city. We almost get the feeling that we’re about to watch an American crime drama.

But no. Or at least, not quite. We already have our perp. He’s even confessed.

Here’s a thing I didn’t realise – Japan still has the death penalty. The complexity of how this sentence is applied drives the team of legal brains (led by Shigemori – played by Masaharu Fukuyama) to understand why the prisoner Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has confessed, what exactly he has confessed to, and why he keeps changing his story. It’s deftly handled by Kore-eda so that we understand just as much as we need to, and we don’t spend the entirety of the film inside a courtroom.

As the lies are peeled away and the truth begins to emerge, we start to understand *what* is going on with Misumi, but not necessarily *why*. And as the lawyer Shigemori learns more about his client, Kore-eda and his camera crew shift the view inside the prison visiting room each time so that in the last meeting, some exquisite work sees the faces of the two men almost superimposed on one another.

The audience is left to make up its own mind as to exactly how the ending could be interpreted and while I’m fine with this, there are a couple of loose ends that make me wonder if this wasn’t originally a longer film but had to be cut. The storyline around the lead lawyer’s daughter, for example, feels like it’s going to be quite significant until about half way through but then it just disappears, to the point where she was preying on my mind a little.

But despite these small niggles, Kore-eda delivers yet again. If you’re not familiar with his work, then this would be a great starting point, and I actively encourage it!

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Umi yori mo mada fukaku – After the Storm

Another slice of domestic Japanese life seen through the lens of director Hirokazu Kore-eda.

In many ways this is nothing new from the Japanese director, yet at the same time it is a different domestic arrangement which provides the backdrop for the narrative.

Uncontrollable natural elements force together a broken family and we end up completely understanding every single person’s point of view by the end.

The two stand out performances for me were the father (Hiroshi Abe) and his elderly mother (Kirin Kiki). He is a loveable, shambolic failure – his career and marriage floundering, he is out of place everywhere both emotionally and physically; he is unusually tall and appears squashed in the doorways of his mother’s apartment.

His mother is perhaps one of the most authentic characters you will see on screen – physically ageing but with the wisdom of longevity, she reminded me so much of my own grandmother, who died before I was advanced enough in years to begin to understand what it is like to get old.

And this is the essence of Kore-eda. His films return repeatedly to every day life, to situations and people who we can instantly recognise. It’s a shame that only those with the patience to allow him into our lives benefit from his observations. 

An – Sweet Bean

An excellent example of why I enjoy watching films from other cultures so much.

The story starts in a conventional manner, then takes a turn which reveals things about Japanese history (recent at that) of which I was not aware. It also throws in some interesting culinary information too.

The lives of a solitary chef, an elderly woman and a school girl intersect at a small shop selling dorayaki – sweet bean paste-filled pancakes – and while their meeting may be conventional, their histories gradually reveal more than would normally be imagined.

It’s a very gentle-paced film, with lots of listening – to the wind in the trees, a bird singing, beans cooking – but it doesn’t drag in the slightest. Kirin Kiki is outstanding as the elderly woman, and Masatoshi Nagase delivers an excellent performance as the solitary ‘Boss’. Interesting to note that the young girl is played by Kyara Uchida, who is actually Kirin Kiki’s granddaughter.

I have to admit to having seen none of director Naomi Kawase’s previous films, so I will definitely rectify that – and am open to advice on where to start.


Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)

Subtle, gentle, delightful and insightful – Kore-eda Hirokazu manages to present the delicate intricacies of family life in which on the surface not much happens, but beneath that, each family member learns something about herself and her sisters, without huge revelations or tantrums.

Kore-eda’s last two films, I Wish and Like Father, Like Son focussed on sons in the families. This time, it is four daughters who take centre stage, and they are older than the previous protagonists, making an interesting contrast.

Kore-eda is often mentioned in the same breath as Ozu Yasujiro and while the family scenario connection is obvious, this is the first time that I’ve been put in mind of a specific Ozu film – in this case Late Spring. I attribute this to the female focus, certain shots of the oldest daughter reminding me of the framing of Ozu’s Noriko, and the coastal setting.

But in any case, this story is absolutely beautiful, and reveals events and feelings from the characters’ pasts – and of people no longer present in their lives – subtly and poignantly.

It examines how death touches our lives, and how the legacy of a person’s life and our memory of them can alter over time and affect our own self-perception.

It’s also the first time I’ve ever noticed that a film mentions its own Food Stylist in the credits. Preparing, cooking and eating food is the centrepiece of family interaction, so if you go to see this film, make sure you have a table booked for the moment you emerge – you’ll be hungry!

Deliciously beautiful.