Confessions (Kokuhaku) (2010)

She will have her revenge.
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Confessions - She will have her revenge.

Let's be honest – all schoolkids are a vicious breed, but if you watch any amount of Japanese genre cinema, you could be forgiven for thinking that Japanese schoolkids are the worst of them all, and that's even when they're not fighting to the death with deadly weapons or rapidly developing super-strength mutant body parts. Of course, Confessions (Kokuhaku) is not a piece of realist cinema, but nonetheless, the overriding feeling I got from it was of a school system and even a school culture which may be ostensibly very orderly and mannered, but has a seething, dark underbelly of hierarchical nastiness and barely-concealed aberrance. Confessions is a fantastical riff on what felt to me like a real and recognisable basis. However, torture porn in the classroom this ain't.

Ms. Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) is a middle-school teacher (or comprehensive school teacher, in my language) who is about to bid goodbye to her very unruly, outspoken form group for spring vacation. She tells them she will also be leaving the teaching profession. Before she does so, though, she begins to talk to them about a personal tragedy which unfolded for her in recent months: her four year old daughter, Manami, was found drowned in the swimming-pool near her day care. This barely seems to register with her somewhat self-interested young charges – but then, she reveals that she has not only discovered that the death was no accident, but that the blame lies with someone in the class.

Thus begins to unfold the first in a series of confessionals which provide the structure for the various narratives, spoken by the key players involved, which follow. At first, I must admit that Miss Moriguchi's saccharin monologue describing her little girl, the loss of whom kicks off all of the subsequent events here, did not entirely gel with me. Neither did the completely steady pacing seem to be taking me along with it; there were some moments, especially within the first thirty minutes of the movie, which I felt lacked impact, retold as they were in the same gentle voice and manner, and by its nature this is a film of almost continual monologue. It was only after I got used to this choice of tone and structure that I was able to immerse myself in the plot – a plot which gradually, carefully, begins to weave in subsequent elements, elements which collectively come to pack a serious punch. This is a film all about repercussions and revenge, although no one gets tied to a chair, no one has to run for their lives; the revenge here is much more psychological, and it takes months to unfold, a length of time which feels believable on-screen.

What really interested me here was that we have a main character frustrated by a legal system which, in the Far East as here, denies full culpability to minors who have committed heinous crimes. It is why she has abandoned the point of seeking redress in the usual way, opting instead to craft vengeance which also teaches the value of life, albeit in such a way as to reflect the pain she herself has felt. In doing so, however, Miss Moriguchi initiates a butterfly effect which unleashes chaos upon people who do not share the blame for what happened to Manami. As with many of the best of these psychological horrors, ambiguity and characters with whom we sympathise in one moment and detest the next mean that there are no winners here. What we have is an engaging and interestingly-crafted look at loss. And all the characters we meet suffer loss, although feminine perspectives seem especially important for the lion's share of the film. Hell hath no fury, etc.

Experimental, dreamlike in places which felt challenging at first, and a lesson in picturesque cruelty, Confessions was slow to grow on me but, once hooked, I stayed hooked. Director Tetsuya Nakashima has created an accomplished film which has both style and sinister substance.
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Categories: Asian Horror Movies

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