The Third Murder

Catch one of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's dramas playing exclusively at the Brattle Theatre through Aug. 15


The Third Murder ★★ 1/2

The opening moments of this first of two dramas we’ll be seeing this year from masterful Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda find a middle-aged man bludgeoning another with a wrench, before he pours gasoline on the body and sets it ablaze in an empty field late at night. Or does he? When next we see Takashi Misumi (veteran actor Koji Yakusho of 1996’s Shall We Dance?, working with Kore-eda for the first time), he’s behind bars, having confessed to the murder of his boss. Convicted of two killings committed three decades before, we have no reason to doubt his third murder, which we’ve seen with our own eyes. But Kore-eda—whose films are frequently compared with the family dramas made by the legendary Yasujiro Ozu from 1927 until his death in 1963—has tapped into the work of a third master: Akira Kurosawa. Specifically, the late director’s 1950 crime drama, Rashomon, which featured multiple points of view of a murder as related by a series of unreliable narrators. And Misumi, who also admits to robbing money from his employer’s safe, keeps changing his story. So frequent are his variations, that you begin to question the events as you yourself witnessed them. Nevertheless, just think how Misumi’s defense attorney, Tomoaki Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama of Kore-eda’s 2013 custody drama, Like Father, Like Son), must feel, since he didn’t even have the luxury of observing at least one of the ways Misumi claims the crime was committed. As Kore-eda (who also penned the script) draws parallels between the lawyer and his client, their relationships to the truth become equally elusive in this puzzling look at the injustices of the Japanese judicial system and the moral failings of flawed men—a frequent theme in Kore-eda’s recent works. Answers don’t come easily, if at all, and the film’s unexplained mysteries promise to haunt patient viewers long after the closing credits have rolled. (Exclusively playing at the Brattle Theatre from August 10-15.)

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