out of Five
Running time: 109
Impressively directed and beautifully shot, this is a superbly written thriller with strong performances and a terrific soundtrack, though the relentless barrage of twists and turns is ultimately both confusing and overwhelming.
What's it all about?
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima (who made both Memories of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls), Confessions is based on the best-selling Japanese mystery novel by Kanae Minato. The film opens with a lengthy monologue sequence in which schoolteacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) calmly reveals to her rowdy students that two of them murdered her young daughter and that her revenge upon them has already been set into motion.
The film then focuses on the two guilty students (Yukito Nishi as manipulative Suya and Kaoru Fukiwara as his keen-to-impress accomplice Naoki) and the narrative flashes forwards, backwards and sideways, taking in multiple characters and various different confessions, each of which has an impact on the story.
Takako Matsu is superb as Moriguchi: her lengthy opening scene is utterly mesmerising and would make a terrific stand-alone short film. There's also strong support from both Yukito Nishi and Kaoru Fukiwara and the superbly written script makes several thought-provoking observations on teen violence, bullying and the emotional intensity of adolescence, albeit at near-operatic levels.
Those expecting the colourful pop-art palettes of Nakashima's previous films are in for something of a shock, as the colour scheme more closely resembles that of David Fincher's Seven, with permanently grey skies and various dark shades and shadows throughout. It's also beautifully shot, with striking camerawork from co-cinematographers Shoichi Ato and Atsushi Ozawa; similarly, there's a superbly integrated soundtrack (including Radiohead tracks and music by Boris) that works brilliantly.
The main problem with the film is that after the bravura first act (climaxing with the end of Moriguchi's story), the twists and turns come so thick and fast that it's initially confusing, and ultimately becomes overwhelming to the point where you can no longer tell what's real and what's imagined. That said, if you're prepared to strap yourself in and go along with it, the film delivers an exhilarating ride.
Confessions is a gripping and frequently horrifying thriller with impeccable direction, stunning cinematography, superb performances and a terrific soundtrack, even if the various narrative wrangles are confusing in the extreme. Recommended, twists and all.