Mar 23, 2011


Selected as the Japanese entry for Best Foreign Film in the 83rd annual Academy Awards, Tetsuya Nakashima's most recent work in "pop filmmaking" is Confessions, a twisty diorama of revenge and manipulation. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the first 30 minutes of Confessions leveled my expectations, comprising of a teachers confession to her classmates. I plan to open my review in the same vein that the teacher Ms. Moriguchi scolds her students and dive right into the meat and matter of the story. Near the end of the term, Ms. Moriguchi speaks under the bustling homeroom of shrieking girls and boasting boys to mention that she is retiring from teaching. After rebutting the claim that she is avoiding responsibility, she then mentions her status as single mother, going on to reiterate her daughters death that occurred not too long ago. The film gets tricky when Ms. Moriguchi reveals that the death was no accident and that the killers are seated among the very demographic before her. What is so strange about Confessions is the manner in which it is produced and compiled. The central components aiding the accessibility is the inclusion of the Radiohead song Last Flowers till the Hospital, instrumentals from Boris, and the frequent usage of slow-motion and melancholy as to capture fleeting moments with ardor.

There are a few points in Confessions that did make me question the need for such grandeur. While Nakashima is predominately known for his pop art with film, as Kamikaze Girls' popularity bleeds through, the repetition of slow-motion acts and ambient streams of instrumentals makes it feel like you are watching the same instance over and over again, which you are. The narrative of Confessions is what grabs hold and justly so. After Moriguchi's confession to her class, the story progresses past into the next year to show the aftermath but halts mid-step and backs up a bit, replaying the events from different perspectives and confessions. So essentially, Confessions is much in tune with a broken record, although being one that doesn't inflame your senses. When conceptualizing Confessions from a novel to a feature length film, Nakashima visualized Takako Matsu as Ms. Moriguchi and vowed only to proceed with filming if her name was attached to star. I find such dedication to a vision flattering the very meaning of cinema. Confessions is many things: tragic, compelling, accessible, empowering, and true to the spirit of teenage years. Nakashima invokes teenage gossip so well that I found myself reminiscing my own high school years while watching Confessions. Culturally and worlds apart, sure, but the cruelty of children remains intact regardless of landmass, this I know. Employing scenes of text messages to scatter the harsh opinions of fellow classmates, Confessions' student body is essentially a pack of piranhas, eager to devour any and all forms of life upon breaking the water.

What it boils down to is a boisterous stage drama. Confessions boasts many wonderful set-pieces, is filmed with a keen eye for wide shots, and gift-wraps its "psychological thriller" package with a fantastic palette of vivid colors. It is what you'd expect of a Hollywood film but living up to its promise of intrigue. Most self-proclaimed psychological thrillers couldn't hold a flame to Confessions and the many darkly-comic passages of teen angst that resides in its sterile walls. Not all things can be hidden with style and polish though. Confessions is malnourished Japanese cinema down to its core - call it culturally deficient. Replace the characters with American actors and you'd hardly recognize the drastic change of casting. I can appreciate the effort put forth into Westernizing it and the budget saves it from piling atop the amateur and dry stack of most Japanese filmmakers but what I want with Japanese films is something that cannot be replicated outside of its walls, hence why I explore international film in the first place. This isn't all bad though as this, in turn, morphs Confessions into an excellent gateway exception for even the most prudish of snobs who refute the idea of "reading while watching". But for what it is worth, Confessions is presented perfectly; it's a film that is a cultural chameleon, can be enjoyed by near anyone, seemingly impossible to dislike (invalid to opinion unless you dissect for dissent), and a precise mixture of woe, humor, and MTV. Look forward to this release from Third Window Films, can you ever go wrong with their catalog?


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