Memoirs of a Murderer (2017) by Yu Irie

Memoirs of a murderer' proves to be as thrilling and satisfying as the original was.


When Jung Byung-gil released his first mainstream feature “confession of murder”, he probably never expected his movie to become so popular and that it would become an award-winning one – it won the thriller competition of the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival for instance. It was so successful that Robot Communications decided to make a Japanese remake, with Yu Irie as director. Yu Irie, known for “8000 miles” (2009) and “Hibi Rock” (2014), is no stranger to the suspense genre, as he directed the popular suspense film “Joker Game” (2015), which won the Fan Grand Prize of the Nikkan Sports Film Award. While the plot is virtually unchanged, can Yu Irie make this narrative as exciting as the original was?

Memoirs of a Murderer is screening at Japan Cuts, that will be on July 13 to 23.



In 2010, after fifteen years of unsuccessful investigating, the case of Tokyo’s serial strangler gets closed. In the very same year, the Japanese government revises the statute of limitations, eliminating it for capital offences. Seventeen years later, and twenty two years after the killings happened, Masato Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara), the Tokyo strangler, organizes an elaborate press conference. He announces that he will reveal the truth of the murders once and for all in his confessional book, “I am the murderer”.

As the strangler’s last crime happened just before the changes in the criminal law took effect, he appears to have evaded punishment for his crimes. Detective Makimura (Hideaki Ito), who investigated the string of strangulations as his first murder case, feels powerless. But then Toshio Sendo (Toru Nakamura) raises doubts concerning the veracity of Sonezaki’s account.


When Sonezaki first appears on the stage, it is already apparent that despite his vocalized reason to find retribution with his publication, the prime reason of his coming-out is enjoyment, and to reap the glory for the murders he can’t be tried for. The conference, a true show for his ego, ridicules the police and media and glorifies his deeds. The importance of his ego is furthermore underlined by the “I” in the title of the book,  the “I” as being the one who takes up the image of murderer.

For the greater part of the narrative, “Memoirs of a murderer” concerns the enjoyment beyond the law, as well as the enjoyment the media and the public finds beyond the law. The narrative shows the perverse collective interest of the public for those people who went beyond the law to enjoy themselves. A collective interest that, for the victims, constitutes a repeating confrontation with the impact of the trauma, but also enables them, as Sonezaki drapes himself with the image of the murderer, to orient their anger, an anger that could not be oriented for twenty-two years.

The perverse pleasure that the media and the public derives from Sonezaki, as the one who went beyond the law, is very sensibly brought to the fore in the narrative and becomes even slightly disturbing for the spectator. But eventually, the spectator’s position begins to overlap somewhat with the enjoying position of the public; the spectator being driven by the same enjoyable wish to know. As “Memoirs of a murderer” progresses, some minor surprising twists are introduced, and even if some are somewhat predictable, the narrative does succeed in keeping the spectator on the edge of his seat.


Even though fixed camera viewpoints are often used, especially near the end, the grim and bleak narrative world tends to be framed with slow moving shots, giving the narrative space of the shot, as it eliminates unnecessary cuts, with a certain consistency. The placing of the cuts frequently aims to give the narrative space its continuous character – or, in the case of flashbacks, consistency at the level of the character. This fluidity in the cinematography is also present in the framing of the action. When action is framed more distant, the camera often floats gently, following the action through the narrative space. The more closely framed action has a rougher fluidity, often underlining the roughness of the performed actions or the chaos of the situation. Furthermore, in framing action, the narrative doesn’t shy away from showing violence in an explicit manner. Even though the different format by which the flashbacks, the television broadcasts, the CCTV, and the in-narrative camera, are framed, might make it easier for the spectator to distinguish between the different timelines or different viewpoints, this format does not seem to bring any added value to the narrative.  

Besides the fluidity of the cinematography, it is also the acting in “Memoirs of a Murderer” that makes the movie so enjoyable and exciting. Tatsuya Fujiwara’s performance as Sonezaki, the center of the narrative, is great and the triumphant narcissism he embodies causes enough discomfort for the spectator. Furthermore, his performance is seconded by the performances of Hideaki Ito and the other members of the cast; each actor bringing enough soul and body to their respective characters.

“Memoirs of a Murderer” does everything a thriller has to do. While the way the narrative is structured provides the necessary tension, catching the viewers’ wish to know, the personal drama, that is mixed into the narrative, is successful in arousing sympathy for the main characters. In short, as long as one doesn’t expect to find any deep psychological truths on the nature of the serial killer or a deep character study of a murderer as such, “Memoirs of a murderer” proves to be as thrilling and satisfying as the original was.   


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Asian Film Vault: Memoirs of a Murderer (2017) by Yu Irie
Memoirs of a Murderer (2017) by Yu Irie
Memoirs of a murderer' proves to be as thrilling and satisfying as the original was.
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