Tetsuya Nakashima directed the candy colored psychedelic 2008 fantasy “Paco and the Magical Book” and the darkly comic Pop Manga-adaptation “Kamikazi Girls.” Neither of those quirky flamboyant charmers could prepare you for the glacial elegance of “Confessions.”
The film begins with a daring twenty five-minute class bound monologue, interspersed with pop tunes, teen misbehavior and flashbacks.
Middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) calls her unruly class to order, calmly announcing she is leaving school. She knows two of her students murdered her four-year-old daughter, Manami. Rather than report them, only to watch them evade the law as minors, she has planned a remorseless revenge. Her ghastly plan will flush the students from the room. As the class recoils at her revelation, class wimp Naoki (Kaoru Fujiwara) bolts from the room. The second cold-blooded murderer is science brainiac Shuya (Yukito Nishii) who tortures animals, as the other kids reveal. The murder was a result of one of his experimental gadgets. Hoping to gain Shuya’s respect, Naoki joined in.
A year passes. The boy’s lives are unraveling. More confessions emerge, revealing one amoral character after another, each seemingly unable to feel compassion for another person. It’s a scathing indictment of modern Japan.
Naoki’s guilt and fear has made him a shut in. Refusing to wash or groom himself, he terrorizes his mother (Yoshino Kimura) that her insane protectiveness leads to another harrowing act of madness. Naoki, who “accidently” killed the girl, as she keeps insisting, has another revelation. Shuya’s ceaseless taunting drove Naoki to a darker, unexpected act.
Bullied by the other students, sociopathic Shoya’s only friend is troubled Mizuki (Ai Hashimoto), who, fascinated by death, becomes another of Shuya’s victims. Shuya’s scientist mother left him and his father. Dreaming of impressing her with his brilliance and wining her back, he plans a revenge on the school that will do just that.
Based on the Japanese bestselling novel Kohuhaku by Kanae Minato, the film takes for granted the crisis in education (the teacher can’t call her class to order), the nihilism of the young- a generation who take bullying for granted and, inured from their senseless violence, count on getting off scot free, protected by the minor’s laws and their doting parent’s unwillingness to control them.
Takako Matsu usually plays good women. Her casting against type, increases the jolt of her character’s artfully planned revenge all narrate in a coolly civilized voice, and no doubt accounted for some of the films Box Office clout in Japan.
Towako Kuwashima‘s art direction is a mesmerizing monotone of blue greys. School uniforms and the sterile school walls create an abstraction of black and whites. Silken pop music (Radiohead, Boris and AKB48) plays throughout adding an ironic disconnect that reminded me of Kubricks’ use of the “Lolita Ya Ya Theme” in Lolita. Cinematographers Masakazu Ato and Atsushi Ozawa shoot the chilling psychological revenge drama like the exquisite first generation of J-Horror films. Sprays of water, drops of blood fill the screen like jewels in languorous slo-mo shots, all culminating in the dazzling final special effects shot. The seductive stylization overwhelms the plot. Distanced from the characters through all of Nakashima’s clever tricks, my own response to the revelations, felt, well like the anomie-filled teens I had been watching on the screen. Having said that, it is more interesting than the majority of American Studio films, and a great good show.