Kokuhaku Movie Review (sorta) – The sound of someone important to you disappearing


A few weeks ago I finally chanced to see 告白 (Kokuhaku/Confessions) and I have to say that it surpassed all my expectations in every element that I can possibly think of to constitute a great film.

Tsuchiya Nakashima’s gem of a film, judging by the first few minutes in it, was a play on details. I wouldn’t say that Confessions is ‘disturbing’ in itself. Yes, it had that societal corruption as depicted in layers but the main emotion I received as I went through it was the slow process of ‘unsettling’. It might be a bit romanticized but it was like watching dust particles slowly move through that minisicule light that goes under the space beneath the door. The film unhinges you from the anchored reality– and the only way to go through it is to follow the flow.

I believe that Confessions is all about details and the irony of the technicalities, the soundtrack and even the tone of language. The juxtaposition of astonishing muted colors, high contrast textures, and play of light, coupled with slow shutter shots depicting closely of desperation (Nao’s mother running towards the convenience store); the comical scene of Nao’s inter-dialogue; the implied innocence of 涉谷 毅‘s Milk in contrast to the juvenile chaos of the class are all subliminal elements to unsettle the audience.

It opens with a montage, which are scattered throughout the film by the way, quite an effective way of graphic narration, the series of emotions; of chaos; and more unsettling as Moriguchi-sensei (Takako Matsu) mechanically goes on about her farewell and the contrived lessons about life. Moriguchi is one of the 6 voices that we would follow in the story’s narration and if you would notice, the strongest and most recurring — she also touches on her personal life in an impeccably detached way, almost mechanic. One of the most striking scenes in the movie would have to be Moriguchi’s narration on how she found out who and how her daughter was killed.

In a different light, I think the film’s mise-en-scene is the archetypes of women in modern Japan, their roles and expectations, in which I am not in the position to comment, but if you look closely, Moriguchi’s despair and desire for revenge was highly motivated by revenge itself and not by her preachy rendition of “redemption”. She was a woman scorned, not by her equal but of a traditional societal structure. Same goes for the remaining women in the movie: Nao’s mother who was imprisoned by Nao’s “disease”, how she looked down on Moriguchi’s parenting decisions, her views on being the acceptable mother and the way she stood by her son until the end– even if it meant to release Nao through death. Then there was Shuuya’s mother who, despite her talent and wisdom, choose to be the “acceptable mother” and at the end forced her lost cause and dreams to her young son (textbook child rearing case of self projection).

kokuhaku

Photo by Marchy de Leon

For my favorite character, it would have to be Mizuki (played by Hashimoto Ai). She was probably the most developed character, and once again, Nakashima’s art of graphic narration played well in her part. In Mizuki lies the twisted yet romanticized heroine. She is logical and manipulative yet she was blinded by Shuuya’s affections in which we could see the juvenile need for acceptance by peers. One of my personal favorite scenes would be the sublime montage of Mizuki and Shuuya. Once again, Nakashima showed his genius on his display of borderline grotesque and beauty.

I would also commend Nishi Yukito, who played the sociopath, Shuuya Watanabe, for his acting. He would be the one to unsettle me most. He was saccharine and grotesque at the same time; the way he stopped looking under his bed for monsters because he knew monsters lived in him. At first, I thought Shuuya had genuine feelings for his mother however, being a sociopath who was uncapable of feeling anything– be it remorse, love, or guilt and the early projection of violence towards animals, I felt that the ultimate motivation for seeing his mother was ego and not love. To quote Shuuya, “Nobody taught me that killing people was wrong”, showed the strong absence of parental guidance and love in which he constantly, albeit subconsciously, blamed on his mother.

With Nao, the same principle of societal acceptance applies. He did what he did not to prove anything to himself but to be accepted. It’s also interesting how Nakashima inserted popular culture icons such as AKB48 and the underground visual kei scene (Mizuki) and how media plays an essential role in youth nurturing and formation. The play on AKB48’s River is also commendable; somehow, it was a perverse cheer for Nao’s contemplation on murder. Another favorite scene is the way Nao’s mother cleaned him up while he was sleeping. It strongly reminded me of Pieta: the Virgin Mary and her son (but this is just me and my Catholic upbringing fffff)

I think Confessions in itself is a socio-cultural commentary on modern Japan. I was hoping for salvation in Shuuya’s character but in the end, it showed the bitter truth that everyone, despite age and background, are capable of evil.

This movie has made me a fan of Nakashima. Looking forward on reading the book as well. Kokuhaku won several awards including Picture of the Year, Director of the Year, Screenplay of the Year (Nakashima), Outstanding Achievement in Film Editing (Koike Yoshiyuki) at the 34th Japan Academy Awards and Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Yoshino Kimura) at the 53rd Blue Ribbon Awards.

AND since this movie has already unsettled me in more ways than one, can someone tell me the meaning behind Moriguchi’s words at the end of the film? When she said she was “Just kidding,” does it refer to Shuuya’s supposed path to redemption or does she mean the whole act of transferring the bomb to Shuuya’s mother’s place? PACHING

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18 responses to “Kokuhaku Movie Review (sorta) – The sound of someone important to you disappearing”

  1. Miyapi says :

    …wait I cannot relate that much yet since I haven’t seen the movie yet huhu /cry but the review makes me want to watch it more. ASAP

  2. the little peach girl says :

    Nao was my favorite character. He’s so paranoid and shit. I see myself in him! Competitive when provoked and really panicky! That or maybe I just like running around and screaming.

    Dude, the movie’s last words. It had so much meaning, “Just messing with you” is like, “o hai, I’m just made you kill your mom to mess with you, u mad?”

    THIS MOVIE. BEST TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE. ♥

    • zyn ☆ says :

      And not taking a bath? loljk ILU I hope there was more of Nao’s narration in the movie, I felt he was overpowered by his mom’s tendency to overprotect.

      I couldn’t figure out the last part too. I’m surprised it didn’t make a buzz but I guess it’s supposed to not spoil people lol.

      VERY MUCH. I failed to buy the DVD :/ it was too expensive

  3. dardenitaaa says :

    Loved your review too! I especially liked how you detailed the sociocultural aspect of it. Also, that last line by Moriguchi gave me chills too.

    Looking forward to more of your movie reviews. ♥

    • zyn ☆ says :

      Thank you for reading! I think the whole movie also came down to Moriguchi’s line as well, it was her final confession :’) I followed your blog by the way! Interesting reviews!

  4. MikaChin says :

    >.< waiting for this; auntie ILY forever. Yeah Kokuhaku is not a -disturbing- movie it's just nngh– can't find the right words to describe how amazing this movie is.

    I LOVE -EVERY- DETAIL OF THE MOVIE. From the camera shots to editing up to the soundtracks. And of course, the casts hehe<33

    Will give a special mention to the 3 main ~kids~ you know who they are. <33

  5. miyuchama says :

    WOW. This post ❤
    I was on a whole other plane watching this movie so I was kind of, to use your words, mechanic about it. Tomorrow I will probably have better things to say but yeah, my inner film critic is sleeping right now.

    To answer your last question —
    I honestly think with the timing, she meant about the redemption. But considering the awesome sequence where Shuuya's holding the clock, watching time distort back and forth, it's a theory worth thinking about.

    That's all for now. I shall be back…

    • zyn ☆ says :


      That’s what confused me actually, since Mizuki hinted that Moriguchi didn’t have the guts to kill someone but still, little did she know that she tried, only to be stopped by her partner. So yeah, could be two things skfdh

  6. ~Haida~ says :

    This movie was amazing. One of the best I have ever seen. Just watch it again with my sis and bro last night.

    About the last words that she said, after much thoughts and reading, it can be concluded that she did put the bomb in Shuuya’s mother office. The words; ‘Just kidding’ is just as an act to put salt in the wounds by saying that ‘she’s just messing up with his life’ and not to mention that as a revenge because he did say the same thing when he confessed about killing her daughter. She actually leave the choice in his hand whether he will push the button or not and in the end he did which resulted with his own misery. She also said while the law may protect him, she will never forgive and that will be her revenge by making him living in a ‘living hell’ for the rest of his life.

  7. LennaMG says :

    @Zyn: “Only to be stopped by her partner?” You mean when she took Sakuramiya-sensei’s blood? But that blood I assumed was for herself. To kill, nevertheless. But not others, herself. I thought she wouldn’t kill anybody as well. And, she didn’t. Especially not them. She had them kill and distroy their lives themselves. That does sound like her in the end. Feels like hers. Her signature, indeed.

    I agree with the rest. Her ‘troll’ “Just kidding” at the end was in reference to his redemption. What I don’t agree with is your take on Shuuya. Not strongly though, if at all, I only wonder, if love and ego are really that easy to be separated. And the fact that he DID run to his mother’s office, gullible as the 13-year-old he was, hoping, expecting her; and how he tells that bit of the story in a fairly more convinient way… It all makes me think “that could have been any of us”. Doesn’t take much to turn into a sociopath. And I don’t think it is the “absence of a family”. He didn’t care much for an ‘idiotic’ father. He was obssessed with his mother. Period. And that is genuine to me. Particular, even. No one else obessesed with their mother necessarily will turn out like him. They may come out worse, even from under more ‘flattering’ circumstances.

    Great review, of course. Addresses what needs to be addressed.

    • zyn ☆ says :

      Hi, thank you for the comment! That can be another point, I didn’t think of that. :’) I was thinking in terms of her current state of mind. She knew that there is no justice in the system and the only way out was taking justice in her hands.

      I agree with you on the obsession part. But if his mother was his obsession, then his compulsion would be to run to her no matter what. It’s a psychosis of some sort, not an emotion imo. You have to do it not because you feel the need to. It’s because you have to.

  8. LennaMG says :

    Calling it by such fancy names makes me feel in class, hah. I’m a psychologist btw, ^^. And psychology agrees with you. I, on the other hand, think that “healthy love” is no different an emotion from “obssessive love”. The only difference is not in the feelings – nor in the need to run to where the object of your afection lies – but in what you would allow yourself to do with those feelings and urges. They both may be as strong and as genuine. The problem with psychosis is how “the law”, guilt, doesn’t seem to have a role in your string of thoughts. So you act on them.

    But to me, such obssession, such unhealthy urges… We can all be as mad.

    PS Great film! I’m still talking about it.. hahah!

    • Zyn says :

      Lmao oh god sorry, it’s because i’m swamped with jargon even at home. Thank you for clearing that part up, yes, I agree with the in betweens.

      And thank you omg for the insightful comment! It’s such a wonderful film. You made me want to rewatch it again.

  9. Daniel says :

    An old post, but I just saw the movie and I wrote the words “The sound of someone important to you disappearing”, so I found this and I had to say it: love your review!

    Strongly agree with the scene of the bath (another catholic affected). And with LennaMG and the one who mentioned the secuence of Shuuya’s holding the clock.. and well, there’s no redemption at all.

  10. Denise says :

    Ohhh i really liked this movie, on the ” just kidding” subject, i think she meant she was kidding about the whole: you just killed your own mom by pressing the button. I really dont think she would have the guts to do kill another person, even if was through someone else. Moriguchi did say: why did u choose to kill my daughter? An innocent person, or something along those lines… So i dont think she would go ahead an allow the women to die when she had nothing to do in her daughter death. Even though it would be the perfect revenge… Plus she did deactivate the bomb before, and if it did explode other people would have dies as well… Back to what i said before: she doesnt have the guts or more like she has a conscience so moriguchi would not allow random people to suffer.

    It may also have been about his redemption too. I think she was also trying to ridicule him with that ironic statement. Remember when he admitted to her that he killed her daughter, and pretended to be scared and jump out of the window? He smirked and said “just kidding”, he did not regret his action at all, no remorse. So i think it was Moriguchi’s way of making him feel miserable and ridiculing him: she loves messin with his head, his life and she does not feel bad for him.

    In conclusion, I believe Moriguchi said ” just kidding” ( reffering back to shuuya’s own statement) making fun of him, showing him that she enjoys playing with his head, and making him ruin his life, that he did not really kill his mom, and there is no way for him to redeem himself. 😀 yeah that was a mouthful and hopefully understandable, gosh i hate using my cell phone to type this all up!

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