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Kokuhaku (Confessions) (2010) March 13, 2011

Posted by ayasawada in Film, Japan, Rave.
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Confessions poster

A few weeks ago I flicked over the channels late at night and found Tetsuya Nakashima‘s Memories of Matsuko on. Unimpressed by the pseudo-Amelie wackiness of it all, the friend I was with sniffed at the nonsensical plot and overstylised visuals. “Where’s the substance?,” he asked.

With Kokuhaku, Nakashima finally answers such questions. It is simply outstanding; a film of profundity and raw emotion to match Nakashima’s undoubted visual flair. This is the film in which Nakashima matures, marrying beautiful slow-mo and overhead shots with a stunningly bleak colour palate to create an atmosphere and pacing that completely sucks you in.

It opens with a stunning 20 minute sequence: a typical Japanese junior high classroom stunned by a teacher’s revelation. Without giving too much away, what follows shocks the lives of the students, and three in particular. Based on a novel by Kanae Minato, it’s a tale of revenge in which you’re never quite sure who to root for, and are forced to questions whether either side is right.

Japanese schools are not the serene institutions of sensible students some imagine. They are as unruly and full of teen cruelty as schools as any other. Children and teenagers can be the most cruel beings in this world — too young to know better, but with the power and independence that comes with approaching adulthood, and a mind confused by hormones and new emotions. Kokuhaku‘s brilliance is in capturing this raw truth.

It is not particularly gory like Battle Royale, nor gruesome in the Audition sense. But it is, in a sense more disturbing than that. What kids can do is frightening and their misguided reasons even more so. And there’s something about Japanese society, with its unique culture and pressures that can make this much worse.

Shinji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou Chou is the only other film I’ve seen that captures this so well. For that, and Kokuhaku, its empathy is its achievement; I defy anyone who’s ever experienced the cruelty of high-school life to remain unshaken at this. Lily Chou Chou and Kokuhaku would make for a compelling, emotionally exhausting double bill.

The film finishes on an extremely satisfying note, narratively speaking, but with a conclusion that leaves you feeling slightly sick with guilt for feeling it. It’s quite possibly the best film I’ve seen in the last ten years, and certainly one of the most affecting. And that only comes from something with substance.

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