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February 23, 2012



Tetsuya Nakashima - 2010
Third Window Films Region 2 DVD

Suzanne Vega once wrote, "Blood makes noise". Blood makes plenty of noise here as Confessions is in part about HIV, family relationships, and about bloody revenge. That this discomforting film was chosen as Japan's entry for the the foreign language film Oscar showed some courage. That Confessions never received distribution in the U.S. is not surprising.

Without giving too much away, the basic setup is of a teacher on her last day at school. She talks about a celebrated teacher with a best selling book. The man is revealed to have been her husband. The two had a young daughter. The young daughter dies in an accident according to official records. According to the teacher, her daughter was murdered by two of her students in the classroom. The narrative is in separate chapters, from the point of view of four main characters, presented as their confessions.


I am not familiar with the source novel by Kanae Minato. I would imagine it is primarily an indictment of Japanese society, as well as a legal system that is lenient to even the most vile of juvenile offenders. The students here are in the equivalent of Junior High School, about thirteen years old. I don't feel the need to link to current news stories to indicate that what takes place in the film has reverberations beyond Japan. There are enough news stories about bullying and callous behavior to make Confessions hit home, no matter where you call home.

As far as the content of the film goes, it may be best to let it speak for itself. It is the kind of work that invites discussion about individual and collective responsibility.

What also interest me is how Tatsuya Nakashima has made a film that in content is more serious than Kamikaze Girls or Memories of Matsuko, yet connects with the previous films. The outsider status in Kamikaze Girls is established by the choice of the two young women to dress in styles that are idiosyncratic, but more so with their living in rural Japan. In Confessions the status of outsider is conferred internally as well as externally. The students, both female and male, wear the traditional dark blue uniforms. Even the clothing worn by the teacher is not too different, with solid dark blue dresses. Even though the film centers on four characters, there is the implication that almost everyone here feels a sense of alienation from themselves and others. The title also carries the weight of irony when we see that not everything shown or heard is necessarily true, as the respective narratives are contradicted or given additional information.

Confessions is also as visually stylized as any of Nakashima's previous films. Where a DVD supplement proves valuable is in Nakashima explaining how he not only created storyboards for every shot, but essentially made a video version to use as a guide in making the film. Some of this stylization comes in the form of editing of a succession of quick, almost abstract, images. There is also the digital raindrops, and the bubbles that seem to pop out of one of the student's ears. There is also the choreography with the students dancing to "That's the Way (I Like It)", and a scene near the end, an overhead shot of the students gatherer in circle around one young man.

The center of the film is Takako Matsu as the teacher. No fragile flower here, but someone with understated reserves of steel. The final shot of Matsu is with tears in her eyes. Yet even when she appears to have tipped her hand, she let's you know that perhaps all is not quite as it appears.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 23, 2012 09:01 AM