Monday, May 9, 2011

Confessions (Kokuhaku) (2010)

Confessions Of (A Few) Dangerous Minds

When it comes to Asian cinema, one of my favorite qualities is their ability to defy genre. Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions (Kokuhaku) has been labeled horror, drama, and psychological thriller, just to name a few. This somber revenge film has been picking up accolades wherever it goes, and with good reason;  its blend of emotion, violence, and lengthy dialogue form one of the most beautiful films of the year and is sure to please any genre buff with a taste for originality.

The film opens with a thirty-minute monologue (or "confession" as each chapter is called) by 7th grade teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) who tells her students that she is resigning with the end of term. Her unruly class who are busy texting, talking, and bullying cheer loudly for her resignation. She slowly begins to get her students' attention when she mentions that her young daughter died recently. The police ruled it an accidental drowning, but Moriguchi confides that two students in her class were responsible for the murder. As she tells the class about "Student A" and "Student B", the teens slowly pick up on who the two killers are. Finally, she tells the class that she's mixed HIV-infected blood into the milk of the two culprits in hope that they'll learn to appreciate life while they await the results. The film picks up at the beginning of the next semester, where Student A has returned to class, but Student B has not. Their new teacher, an overly excited and inspired young adult, is determined he can convince Student B to come back to school. He is completely unaware of what happened the previous semester, as the students are threatened not to talk about it via an anonymous text message. Regardless, cruelty and bullying become an everyday pitfall for Student A while Student B suffers a more manic and hermit-like depression, locked away in his bedroom; all of which stems from (and continues) Moriguchi's vengeance.

When you hear that a film begins with a thirty-minute monologue, you may find yourself worried that this isn't the right type of film for you. If you actually take the time to watch it, however, you will find that you are immediately drawn into Moriguchi's story which is made even more haunting by the constant background scoring of Boris' My Machine and Radiohead's Last Flowers. Before you know it, Moriguchi's half-hour confession is over and you're craving more because the sense of melancholy in her tale is heightened not only by the amazing soundtrack, but by some of the most beautiful cinematography you will ever see. And while the rest of the movie is equally exceptional, the opening will likely stand out long after you've finished the film.

The casting in the film is by far some of the best I've ever seen, as every teenager in her class (even the ones with little to no lines) have personality and character written all over them. Her classroom is a living and breathing environment on its own, and each student has their own way of being a part of it. They each seem to have a different reaction to every incident that occurs and it never comes across as forced or trite.

While the film isn't overly violent (a few blood splatters here and there), most of the uncomfortable vibes are rooted deeply in character behavior. From the uncaring confessions of Student A to a few startling revelations seen later in the film, it's human desire that rears its ugly head throughout the film and attacks the audience. Each character has a reason to do what they do, and while you may find it heartbreaking, you may also find it nauseating.

With a deeply engaging story, astounding cinematography, a must-own soundtrack, and more, Confessions is a true work of art. This will be a definite for Blu-ray aficionados, as I can't imagine watching every gorgeous scene in anything less than high definition. Japan has also chosen Confessions as its Official Selection for the 2011 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Feature. I'd day "keep your fingers crossed", but I'm sure it would just lead to an American remake where a disgruntled teacher puts sleeping pills in her student's milk and then tortures them for eighty minutes. In case I just jinxed it, watch Confessions as soon as you can and revel in true filmmaking at its finest. Unless you're Student-A or B, you might just learn a valuable lesson.

5/5 Stars

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