Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A murder mystery from Hirokazu Kore-eda? Yes, as THE THIRD MURDER opens in theaters

Really? A murder mystery from Hirokazi Kore-eda, the fellow who has made all those wonderful Japanese films about family and relationships and philosophy and responsibility? Yes.

And THE THIRD MURDER is indeed about family and relationships and philosophy and responsibility. And also, especially, about justice, motive and character --  that last in every sense that you can imagine for this hugely encompassing word.

Mr. Hirokazu, pictured at right, whose classic Maborosi (the new Blu-ray release of which TrustMovies covered only last week) rather set the Japanese standard for films concerning all of the above themes, has now taken those themes and applied them to the murder mystery genre.

The results will most likely please his current fans a good deal more than they may satisfy those who expect anything remotely like a conventional murder mystery.

The Third Murder begins in a dark and deserted field at night in which a rather grizzly murder (followed by a cremation) takes place. Thanks to Hirokazu's skill and subtlety, sound effects jar us more than the visuals.

It seems clear from the beginning exactly who the murderer is. But who he is in terms of his character and why he has done the deed remain murky yet continually compelling. And Kôji Yakusho, above, who plays this very unusual role is equally compelling.

We learn something of the Japanese justice system, meet friends and family of the victim, as well as of that of murderer's defense attorney (Masaharu Fukuyama, above) -- who initially does not want this case but slowly grows closer and closer to the man he is defending.

What is learned about the victim will hardly ingratiate the guy to viewers, and once we've met his sleazy wife and hugely troubled daughter, this third murder begins to become as understandable as the first two, which we learn of in the course of the investigation.

Still, this is murder, and so justice must be served. But how? The defense attorney's father (above, who is himself a judge) offers one solution, but his son keeps soldiering on, hoping for a way to get his client a life sentence (or less) rather than death.

Religious motifs -- yes, that cross (seen above and below) -- figure in prominently,

as do dead birds, a thank-you note and peanut butter. Motives are mulled over and seem initially promising but then unclear, while truth, as ever, is utterly elusive.

Toward the finale, there is a scene of such supreme visual power, depth and even a weird kind of suspense as our two heroes come as close as possible to "joining."

Now, I have seen this kind of visual done previously on a number of occasions, but never as well as here. The sense of separate entities trying their best to understand each other and become one has rarely been brought to such vibrant, emotional and philosophic life.

If you are in the market for any cut-and-dried procedural or even a mystery with some sort of surprise finale, better look elsewhere. But if the ever-amazing and endlessly engaging ideas of family as both salvation and hell, justice as an elusive goal worth pursuing, and character as something that evolves rather than springs fully formed from DNA, then The Third Murder might just be your cup of chrysanthemum tea.

From Film Movement and running 124 minutes, the movie opens in New York City this Friday, July 20, at the Quad Cinema and on August 3 in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, with other cities to follow in the weeks and months to come.

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