Venice + Toronto 2017: The Third Murder

“Hirokazu Kore-eda is best known for intimate family dramas that overseas critics often compare to the work of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-63), the genre’s unquestioned master,” writes Mark Schilling, introducing his interview with the filmmaker for the Japan Times. “Kore-eda rejects these comparisons, however, and says he feels more of a cinematic kinship to Mikio Naruse (1905-69), one of Ozu’s contemporaries. Kore-eda’s films—Still Walking (2008), Like Father, Like Son (2013) and After the Storm (2016)—constitute a spiritual autobiography that reflects the 55-year-old filmmaker’s own family history and experience with fatherhood. But his latest, The Third Murder, is a courtroom drama centering on a slippery lawyer (Masaharu Fukuyama) and an enigmatic ex-convict (Koji Yakusho) accused of murdering his former boss.”

And in his review on an adjacent page, Schilling notes that the film “begins as a noir-ish procedural (imagine an episode of Law & Order transposed to Japan). Working from his own script, however, Koreeda transforms his simple premise into a powerful, intricately constructed meditation on the mysteries of the heart, the elusiveness of truth and the injustices of the Japanese justice system, in which the scales are tipped in favor of the prosecution.”

Leonardo Goi for Cinema Scope: “There are plenty of allusions to Kurosawa’s Rashomon in The Third Murder, as Kore-eda constantly blurs the facts around the film’s eponymous assassination, leaving one with the frustrating feeling the deceased’s young daughter Sakie (Kore-Eda’s regular Suzu Hirose) perceptively nails at the end of the film: ‘nobody here tells the truth.’ Unsettling as it may be, the impossibility of knowing the real version (and motives) behind the crime is The Third Murder’s greatest merit.”

“Utilizing some of Japan’s finest and most notable actors to mirror warring sides of discourse, the departure in tone still bears Kore-eda’s refined, controlled aesthetic,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema. “Those hoping for a pulpy, genre entry from the director will perhaps be disappointed in a film which otherwise stands as another obvious calling card for Kore-eda, albeit one with a darker tone than usual.”

“Though the plot is at times overly-convoluted and the pace may be just a bit too comfortable for a crime story, the sure hand of a director who knows exactly what he wants to put in a frame and how to do it is evident throughout,” writes Screen’s Dan Fainaru. “Impeccable cinematography [by Takimoto Mikiya] achieves some remarkably sophisticated imagery and, as one would expect in a Kore-Eda film, a dose of profound humanism allows no villains on screen, unless it is the one character who is done away with in the first instance.”

“Everything that is obvious and straightforward in the first scene (we even get a good look at the murderer's face) is cast into doubt by the end of the film, posing serious questions about the judicial system and the concept of judging another human being,” writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “While many cuts above a standard mystery in terms of the direction, acting and technical work, the film's philosophical side will probably leave many genre fans cold. Even Kore-eda fans may need to adjust their expectations. Though different in feeling from the Japanese writer-director's perceptive family tales like After the Storm, it has the same clarity of thought and precision of image as his very best work.”

Update, 9/11: “One always gets the sense in Kore-eda’s best films that even the quiet moments have great purpose,” writes Brian Tallerico at “That’s lacking here a bit, especially in the courtroom, but never to a completely damaging degree.”

Updates, 9/15: “Following conventions of the investigative procedural, the plot relies on secrets, viewpoint shifts that drop hints, twists that frustrate simple understanding, and flashbacks that make us question what we thought we knew,” writes David Bordwell. “Shooting in anamorphic widescreen, Kore-eda produces some extreme framings reminiscent of Kurosawa’s High and Low, one of the films he studied while preparing the project. Despite occasionally flashy moments, it’s a soberly told tale, emphasizing characterization and social critique. . . . The Third Murder shows that Kore-eda hasn’t given up his sympathetic probing of human nature and his praise for un-grandiose self-sacrifice.”

“Much of Kore-eda's screenplay consists of office roundtable discussions and discourses on Japanese law,” notes Kelley Dong in the Notebook, “and however boring this may sound, these conversations also lay out conflicting reasonings regarding the ethics of its death penalty, and human nature's relationship to crime. No side is privileged as right, and the film's experiments in superimpositions and two-shots would claim that, in fact, there are no sides to justice when each individual stands on a point of subjectivity. Reminiscent of earlier works such as Maborosi (1995), After Life (1998), and Distance (2001), this time Kore-eda’s skill for hiding cuts between the real and unreal evokes genuine terror.”

The Third Murder insists that humans can’t judge one another, and that capital punishment is an inherently flawed practice,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich. “It tells us that class can tip the scales of justice at birth, and that the privileged need to ignore a whole lot of grim things in order to go about their business. And while this critic happens to agree with Kore-eda on all of those points, his latest movie flatters that perspective rather than testing it. It’s beautifully acted and trembles with truth, but it never gives us enough information to arrive at those conclusions on our own or deepen our belief in them.”

“Perhaps The Third Murder can’t be made to tie up,” suggest the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, “and perhaps the point of the film is that without video footage, or even with video footage, evidence for what happened in the past resides in human testimony: people believing other people when they say what happened. And witnesses are fallible and unreliable. The Third Murder is a captivating puzzle.”

Update, 10/22: “Kore-eda fans may find his latest quite dry,” writes Pierce Conran at ScreenAnarchy, “while Japanese thriller aficionados might consider this tale to be somewhat bloodless, but anyone willing to adjust their expectations slightly will find a powerfully philosophical and meticulously designed work that fuses high art and grand entertainment.”

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