Confessions (2010) by Tetsuya Nakashima

One of the greatest contemporary films


Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Kanae Minato, "Confessions" is a tale of a high-school teacher seeking revenge on her students following the death of her young daughter . The film was written and directed by Tetsuya Nakashima and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language films at the Academy Awards. It was also nominated for and won several Japanese film awards, including Best Director and Best Picture at the 34th Japan Academy Prize awards.

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The film begins with a teacher, Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), telling her class of high-school students that she will soon be retiring. She explains that her 2-year old daughter Manami drowned in a nearby swimming pool. She also leaves the class with a warning that she knows that two of her students murdered her daughter. This startling revelation is followed up by her revealing that she has spiked the daily milk cartons of the two students responsible for Manami's death with the blood of her late husband, who was HIV-positive.

The film shifts between Yuko; her comically inexperienced re-placement teacher; the two boys involved in Manami's death, Shuya (Yukito Nishii) and Naoki (Kaoru Fujiwara); as well as a female classmate, Mizuki (Ai Hashimoto). We learn that Shuya was abandoned by his mother when young, turning him into an arrogant young man who yearns for some form of love or respect, feeling upset that nobody recognizes his genius . Naoki becomes a recluse through the guilt of his involvement. As the details of the case are revealed to us, little by little, and both Yuko and Shuya plot their revenge, we are asked to judge all of these character, their actions and whether they are justified.


The story twists and turns, revealing to us the events that led to the death of Manami. As we uncover more pieces of the puzzle, we start to feel a little sympathy towards those involved. By chaptering the story and cutting between different perspectives it offers an interesting twist on the revenge genre, showing alternate viewpoints of the same incident. It also helps keep the film engaging, as each individual segment is like a mini-movie in itself, helping to build a bigger picture. The film has a pessimistic tone about human nature that some may find off-putting. From the initial scene, we can see that most of the children simply do not care that a young girl has died, being self-absorbed to the point of cruelty. While it might be hard to accept, this is probably an honest portrayal of people's reactions to death and suffering in the world around them.

The acting is solid all around. Takako Matsu is intimidating in her calculated mission of revenge against the two boys. She has a lengthy monologue at the beginning of the film that manages to hold your attention, through great writing and acting, despite stretching to over twenty minutes. Yukito Nishii's Shuya is a despicable individual, lacking compassion and morality, but still manages to evoke some sympathy in his later scenes, as we see his difficult upbringing. Kaoru Fujiwara does a great job with the traumatised Naoki, who is unable to cope with his guilt. He is perhaps the most pitiable of all the characters. Masaki Okada plays the  inappropriately upbeat, replacement teacher Yoshiteru Terada, who offers some much needed comic relief in this unflinchingly bleak drama. Ai Hashimoto rounds out the main cast as Mizuki, giving fantastic performances as both the dutiful schoolgirl and the out-of-school teenager with her own quirks and complexities.


Perhaps the main flaw of the film is in its direction. Tetsuya Nakashima has undoubtedly created a beautiful, stylised work, but it sometimes suffers from an overly cold presentation. The choice to use a lot of slow-motion shots make it feel too polished. What should be a dark, gruesome tale, seems to have a glossy finish that makes everything seem unreal. It pains me to say this because the scenes taken individually are undeniably gorgeous. I can understand the decision to go with this style to some extent. The washed-out colour palette helps get across the sense of relentless tragedy, like dark clouds are blocking out the sun, and the use of predominantly static or stabilized camera shots is also impactful, as it creates the unnerving sense that nothing can be done about the situation, that while the characters might rage, the world goes on uncaring. However, it can occasionally feel as though emotions that should be raw and powerful are dulled by the clinical presentation. 

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There is also a great soft-rock soundtrack, featuring songs from the likes of Coldplay and other English lyric songs, which is enjoyable, but again gives the impression that you are watching a music video rather than a revenge drama.

These criticisms are only a minor distraction however and " Confessions" remains a must see for crime or horror fans. The story is supremely interesting and the beautiful cinematography make it an enjoyable watch. There is a fun soundtrack throughout and it seems the film is torn between being a serious drama and an exploitation film. That said, there is so much to recommend it  that any flaws are fairly insubstantial. One of the most shocking and beautifully presented additions to the genre of high-school horror.


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Asian Film Vault: Confessions (2010) by Tetsuya Nakashima
Confessions (2010) by Tetsuya Nakashima
One of the greatest contemporary films
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