What drives a wronged person to revenge? What initiates a thirst for retribution? It is when the powers that be fail to deliver a fair judgement; when the hunger for getting even remains unsatisfied; when one is convinced that justice has not been done and decides that they just can’t remain helpless, mute spectators to the wrongdoing inflicted upon them or their loved ones.
But to what extent should one go? How much is enough? Is death the ultimate penalty? Not at all! What is more potent then? A fate worse than death, perhaps; something that could make life a living hell for the perpetrator!
Japanese filmmaker Tetsuya Nakashima's "Confessions" (2010), which tells a rather twisted tale of one such act of revenge, begins on a rather random note with a somewhat disoriented scene in a noisy classroom full of boisterous and mischievous thirteen year olds on the final day of class before school closes for the Spring break. A young teacher, Miss Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), says that it will be her last day in school and is delivering a long monologue which occasionally gets drowned in the accompanying continuous drone in the background score. The viewer suffers distraction too, with the camera cutting to the shots of some students playing mischief, hitting each other with a baseball, and chattering away, hardly paying attention to their teacher, while she continues addressing the class. The whole class (and so does the viewer) suddenly starts paying attention when she begins to make some startling revelations about what happened with her little daughter Manami.
She reveals that her daughter was killed in an incident which was considered to be drowning by accident and was soon dismissed. But in reality, two boys present in the class at the time, were responsible for the daughter’s death. She further adds that she is aware that the laws for juveniles are too soft and the boys would escape severe punishment. The students are taken aback at these sudden shocking confessions and are further subjected to a deadly surprise when Miss Moriguchi reveals her diabolical plan for exacting revenge and establishes that she has already set the ball rolling as they speak ….!
It’s a fantastic twist that catches us unawares in this one scene in the beginning but it also raises a whole lot of questions immediately. What next? Is this it? This almost seems to be a closure to the story. A girl killed, culprits revealed, and the mother takes her revenge! That kind of wraps it up, doesn’t it?! But not so soon. Writer-director Tetsuya Nakashima has more in store for us! The meaning of the title "Confessions" now starts taking shape. For this is not merely about the confessions of the mother, Ms. Moriguchi! It is also about those of others who are somehow tied to the incident in question.
In a rather intricately layered and engaging screenplay, Nakashima shifts focus from one viewpoint to the other. A motley of characters, people connected to the incident make their own confessions in voice-overs that narrate their side of the story. Nakashima presents us one picture in the initial few frames, from which we form an image of a particular character. Yet later, he forces us to see the same picture in a different light, a completely different perspective that makes us rethink our initial judgment of the character. It is a classic representation of the other side of truth and how appearances can be deceptive. It is about how it is awfully difficult to distinguish the right from the wrong, the good from the bad, because in the end, it is all a matter of perspective. One could stop at what seems to be the absolute truth. But dig beneath, and there could be more that could turn a fact on its head!
"Confessions" is a fascinating play on the viewer's judgment and overall impression about a person or a happening; an impression that doesn’t seem to attain stability and finds itself shifting in the labyrinth of these strange episodes happening in each person’s life. Nakashima also succeeds in putting the viewer in a hypnotic trance with his stylistic approach of beautiful cinematography that is gorgeous and bleak at the same time, a haunting soundtrack that plays with the senses along with a very prominent drone that fills the atmosphere, and slow-motion camerawork that more or less occupies most of the running time of the film, rendering a spacey, dream-like mood. One might wonder if more style means less substance, but so is not the case, as there is enough meat to balance the style and a perfect equilibrium is achieved in the overall construction of the film. Thankfully, graphic, gory violence, which is a characteristic of most Asian revenge dramas is kept to a minimum and is not exaggerated. There is more reliance on the trance-like atmosphere rather than the gore.
"Confessions" boasts of an intriguing script and commendable performances, especially from Takako Matsu and youngsters Yukito Nishii and Ai Hashimoto. The film does falter slightly though, from some overdone and contorted scenes drawing dangerously close to being gimmicky, tacky special effects towards the end and just too many twists crammed in the final act, some of which aren’t as shocking or compelling as some better ones that appear midway through the film. Hardly any reason to sideline it though; for this is surely one of the better thrillers from recent times that you’ll have the pleasure of viewing.