Review: CONFESSIONS 告白 (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Review: CONFESSIONS 告白 (2010)

Ijime (bullying) is a common sight in Japanese schools, and acclaimed writer-director Tetsuya Nakashima's controversial adaptation of Kanae Minato's bestselling mystery novel takes the viewers on a whirlwind rollercoaster ride of poetic justice, revenge and perverse society where everything is all about nihilistic and uncomfortably cruel. The result is CONFESSIONS, which in turn, became a phenomenal sensation in Japan. The movie was also a huge box-office and critical hit and has already been selected as the country's official entry in the Best Foreign Film category of the upcoming 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Not only that the movie has received (almost) universal praises with a great degree of success in the film festivals around the world. So the biggest question is: what makes CONFESSIONS such a praiseworthy effort? Upon watching this with a high hope, I find this with a mixed feeling. It's not really that good as (most) critics expected in the first place. It's certainly a bold piece of work that earns its reputation as among the most disturbing genre movies ever made in the recent memory, except it's not in a very positive manner. In the end, CONFESSIONS ends up as among the most overrated movie of the year.

Still, the first 30 minutes or so is a masterpiece of cinematic experience that holds your attention -- At the beginning of the movie, which set entirely in a classroom filled with junior-high students, as Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) announces her early retirement following from her three-year-old daughter who is found drowned in the school's swimming pool. During her teaching session in the class, she quickly discloses that she knows the identity of two unnamed killers who was responsible for the cruel murder. Those two killers happened to be the teenage boys from her class. Since she knows that they cannot be held punishment under Japan's juvenile legal code (they are 13-year-old of age), she decides to take matters into her own hands by injecting HIV-infected blood into the two killers' milk carton she has distributed in the class. Everyone start to grow panic, as she proceeds to give a long-winded moral speech in which she speaks calmly amidst the chaos while describing the killing by addressing the two killers with pseudonyms. No doubt the classroom scene alone worth the price of admission as the tone is nevertheless gripping enough to keep the viewers glued to their seat, anticipating the way Yuko has unleashed her psychological warfare through disturbing speech revelations. At this point, Takako Matsu's riveting performance is a sight to behold and if only the movie would have sustained the similar momentum for the rest of the running times.

And this is where the real problem begins to unravel. After the compelling first 30 minutes, the rest of the movie starts to cut loose and the story starts to spin in a RASHOMON-like tricky narrative structure as we learn the insight of these particular three characters: pathetic loner Naoki (Kaoru Fujiwara), Naoki's worrying and overprotective mother (Yoshino Kimura) and a science genius Shuya (Yukito Nishii). As complex and bold as it sounds, the story quickly moves haphazardly with a degree of unfocused attention while Nakashima's overly-artistic direction almost crippled the entire bleak tone that sets the movie perfectly earlier on. Perhaps Nakashima's vision is way too stylized and too odd for its own good, and his excessive usage of depressingly blue-and-grey tones with the accompaniment of rock music soundtrack is more of an annoyingly distracting experience than a novelty approach. The movie doesn't really regain much of its confident footing, leading all the way to a so-called (literally) explosive finale that is neither particularly gory or psychologically disturbing for that matter.

As far as nihilistic revenge cinema goes, look no further than Park Chan-Wook's VENGEANCE trilogy or any good Korean movies of the similar genre. CONFESSIONS tries too hard to achieve that kind of cult status and whatever phenomenal sensation that ignite this movie in the first place remains anybody's guess.

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