The Third Murder (2017) – Film Review
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Fukuyama Masaharu, Yakusho Koji, Hirose Suzu
by Ian Crook
On the surface Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film, The Third Murder begins as a simple Japanese crime thriller and courtroom drama. The film opens with the brutal murder of his boss by Misumi (played by veteran character actor, Kôji Yakusho), a man already with a previous conviction for murder. He is arrested and confesses to the murder and is facing the death sentence. So far, so simple.
His defence team call upon star lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to see if they can find a way to lessen the sentence and remove the death penalty. As they begin to question the defendant, they soon begin to realise that he is an unreliable witness, initially seeming unable to say why he had committed the crime and later offering a variety of different alternative narratives. Did he do it for greed or as a grudge? Was he paid to do it by someone else? Was it a crime of passion to protect others?
“Slippery nature of truth”
As the defence case begins to unravel the story takes on a metaphysical twist as Shigemori begins to question his methods and motives. Shegemori’s father arrives to give advice, as the judge that sentenced Misumi 30 years previously. In a father and son discussion they question the slippery nature of truth with the parable of ‘the blind men and the elephant’, where a group of blind men are all trying to discern the shape of an elephant only by touch. Each determines the nature of the elephant differently depending on which part of the creature they experience.
This neatly encapsulates the central arc of this story. Everybody seems to draw different conclusions depending on their point of view and it should be the point of the law to find a way through this to the whole truth. But there is a balance inherent in the judicial system with the need for justice over truth that Shigemori begins to question.
The narrative twists and turns through to its conclusion, barely giving the viewer the satisfaction of a definitive truth but instead encouraging us to put ourselves in the troubled lawyer’s shoes. The twists never let up, right up to the tense courtroom conclusion, perhaps leaving the viewer with more questions than answers.
Kore-eda’s previous films have been light family dramas and this is his first foray into grittier thriller territory. He has forsaken the warmer tones of earlier work and in this gone for a stark desaturated look making the most of the bleak Tokyo winter and the snowy landscapes of Hokkaido.
The darkness does not mean, however, that this is not a good-looking film – on the contrary. Particular mention should go to the Kore-eda’s regular cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto, who does a deft job of finding the interest in the mundane. Much of the film takes place in conversation between the two main characters at the prison where Misumi is behind a glass partition. Takimoto is particularly playful in his positioning of his camera to make use of the reflections in the glass so that the pair appear to be almost superimposed over each other, blurring the lines between who is actually imprisoned.
This film will leave you pondering over the nature of the truth and the purpose of the judicial system. It makes some interesting arguments over the nature of the death penalty – the third murder of the title perhaps – but ultimately leaves the conclusions to be drawn by the viewer. An interesting take on the courtroom thriller and I hope that this is not Kore-eda’s last journey into darker areas.