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).
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