告白(Kokuhaku, Confessions) is the newest movie by my absolute favorite Japanese director, Tetsuya Nakashima. I had seen it once before on a flight to Japan, but I sat down and watched it again yesterday in better quality, and wow, what a great flick!
The story begins with a teacher announcing her retirement to her class. She tells the students about her daughter, who recently died, and reveals that although the police have ruled it an accident, she was actually killed by two of the students she is speaking to. That’s as much as I feel comfortable telling you without ruining the twisting plot of the movie. If you want to know more, here’s the trailer (though I suggest you skip it):
So, let me start off by saying Tetsuya Nakashima does it again. But wow, what a change in direction. Up until this point, every movie that Nakashima has done has been a very over the top, brightly colored, fun story that while also including some character study has been mostly light-hearted. Basically, the exact opposite of this movie. This movie is dark, and I mean DARK, and you will not leave this movie feeling good about the world. This movie made me realize how scary people really are.
But it’s absolutely worth watching. The story alone (based on a best selling Japanese novel) is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Equal parts revenge thriller, murder mystery, and school drama, this movie delves deep into the teenage mind and also into all of the feelings that arise when a love one is killed.
And as dark as it is, it’s a beautiful movie (strange as that might sound). Testuya Nakashima’s usual visual flair is still here, even with the very different tone of the movie. Lots of interesting camera angles and his characteristic use of slow motion make this a really interesting movie to watch, even if this movie is much more heavy on conversation than his previous work. Also, as is to be expected from him, the soundtrack to this movie is beautiful and really well chosen.
Not much more I can say than to stress again that this movie is REALLY good and should definitely be seen by all, even if you normally don’t like watching movies with subtitles. Just remember not to watch this when you want something upbeat.
Now, while I’m talking about Tetsuya Nakashima, I may as well talk about his style and his other movies. I first discovered Nakashima through a movie called 下妻物語(Shimotsuma Monogatari, Kamikaze Girls). It’s a fun, light-hearted movie about a girl who is obsessed with Rococo-era France and it’s style of dress and her odd-couple friendship with a tough girl from a local biker gang and their crazy hijinks.
What immediately caught my eye, was the cinematography in the movie. Really bright, vibrant colors and really interesting camera angles and techniques. The first thing that really got me, was his use of slow motion in the very first scene of the movie. When I say slow motion, though, I don’t mean that he just filmed something and slowed it down. Somehow, the camera motions remain normal speed, but the characters and objects on the screen suddenly stop and seem to float on screen (you can kind of see it in the trailer around the 17 second mark. The other things I liked were the decision to include a pretty sweet animated section as well as the soundtrack. His movies always have a good soundtrack and that becomes even more important in the next movie.
Nakashima’s next movie is 嫌われ松子の一生(Kiraware Matusko no Isshou, Memories of Matsuko). It starts off by telling the story of a man whose aunt (whom he has never met) has just died. His father sends him to her house in order to clean it out, and as he cleans he learns all about her life and attempts to find out more about how she died. The main part of the movie is the story of the aunt’s life from her troubled childhood through her bumpy adult life.
Again, this is a very energetic, colorful movie, with great cinematography, bits of animation, and of course, a great soundtrack (this one won the Japan Academy Award for Best Music). This time though, the soundtrack is one of the stars, as this movie is set up a bit like a musical. Large pieces of Matsuko’s life are told through elaborate song and dance sections. And once again we are taken into another of Nakashima’s storybook worlds.
Nakashima’s third storybook world, is literally that, the world of a storybook. Paco and the Magical Picturebook tells the story of an odd, quirky hospital. At the start of the story, a young girl named Paco arrives at the hospital. She’s there because of a memory disorder; she can only remember the events of one day. She brought with her a children’s book that she is constantly reading and occasionally asks one of the other patients to read it to her. He decides to enlist the help of the rest of the patients and staff to put on a play of the book in the hopes of helping Paco with her affliction.
This is by far the most colorful and light-hearted of the bunch. While aimed towards children this time around, it’s still a very fun and beautifully shot film. There is also quite a bit of animation (this time CG) illustrating the book as it’s being read.
Anyway, the short of it is, Tetsuya Nakashiima is a really great director with a really great eye for flair and producation matched with a really great ear for music, who really knows how to tell a story and make it as interesting as possible. The other thing that should be mentioned are that all of these movies are adaptations; Confessions, Kamikaze Girls, and Memories of Matsuko are novels, and Paco and the Magical Picture Book is an adaptation of a play. And despite the fact that they are all based on other people’s work, they all still very much retain his unique style. If I had to pick someone to compare his work to, I would probably say David Fincher or Jean Pierre Jeunet.