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Crucified on a Cross, Not Pitied

Confessions (2010)

Japan Society

“Confessions,” the official Japanese entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Oscars, made the shortlist of nine but fell short of a nomination. Curiously, the film has much in common with the eventual victor, Denmark’s “In a Better World.” Each tackles the subjects of revenge and vigilantism through the delinquency of a fair-haired juvenile mastermind and his social-misfit accomplice. But whereas “In a Better World” offers a cop-out ending with no actual harm done, “Confessions” serves up shattering collateral damage far and wide.

Based on Kanae Minato’s best seller, “Confessions” seems to be a harsh indictment of everything and everyone in a Japan modernized and Westernized past the point of recognition, where disrespectful children, broken families, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and cellular chatter plague the society. It is truly ironic, then, that its protagonist, junior-high teacher Yuko Moriguchi (comedienne Takako Matsu playing against type), seeks to exact revenge on the two students who murdered her daughter in order to fulfill her duty to teach right from wrong. And this she does in some of the most cruel and unusual ways imaginable.

It’s tempting to dismiss Ms. Moriguchi as a deranged bitch, given the prolonged 30-minute opening scene during which she confronts her entire class about the murder and reveals enough information to identify the two killers without actually naming them. The rest of the class starts mercilessly bullying the fair-haired boy Shuya Watanabe (Yukito Nishii) while his accomplice Naoki Shimomura (Kaoru Fujiwara) succumbs to paranoia and stops attending school. As with “In a Better World,” “Confessions” presents the usual pop psychology, allowing insight into motivations behind the crime. But what sets “Confessions” apart is the fact that it doesn’t let its criminals off the hook — even if they are just children. In fact, it’s hard not to derive some perverse sense of pleasure out of witnessing justice served, no matter how sadistically.

Tetsuya Nakashima, who scripted and directed the film, here employs visuals as relentless as the story itself. Critics often take filmmakers to task for the A.D.D.-addled music-video approach, but this is one rare occasion where the style matches the substance perfectly.

Japan as a society has always seemed to regard its school kids with fondness, especially when they seem to be innocent yet wise beyond their years. The school uniform has also been a permanent pop-culture fixture, manifesting in music and manga. The same reverence seems to apply even when dealing with juvenile delinquents, such as in Shunji Iwai’s “All About Lily Chou-Chou.” But as did the seminal “Battle Royale,” “Confessions” exhibits a grim outlook that casts doubt on Japan’s younger generation. “Confessions” was a bona fide cultural phenomenon that sent shockwaves through Japan’s collective conscience before the tragic earthquakes and tsunami drove people further into soul-searching. Perhaps through the devastation and the struggle to recover, the Japanese can finally find answers that “Confessions” doesn’t offer.


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