‘You guys can murder and get away with it’

Tetsuya Nakashima’s latest film arrives for home viewing with much anticipation for those who have seen the stunning Memories of Matsuko (2006) and the strangely (almost impossibly) marketed Kamikaze Girls (2004). But does it live up to the high expectations and the critical acclaim it has garnered? The answer is, most decidedly, yes, although those expecting the sprinkling of fascinating subsidiary characters who appeared throughout Matsuko or pretty much defined Kamikaze Girls will find this a slightly (only slightly) different kettle of fish, albeit a fascinating and compelling one.

Home room teacher Moriguchi sensei is trying to be as professional as she can with her boisterous class of pupils. But she has difficulties. Her first, an obvious consideration for many teachers, is communicating with her class in a proper and professional, but not alienating, manner. Her other issue is stronger and far more affecting, because she gently announces her resignation and then explains her reasons for this. Most of the class are unsure if her story is true but some are all too aware of the awfulness of her revelations because her confession concerns her young child who died recently… murdered by two classmates too callous to appreciate the severity of their sins but knowing that their age absolves them of any criminal responsibility. She then reveals that she has enacted a ghastly revenge on the perpetrators. The awful situation is now established as each party involved in this horrible story then goes on to offer their own confession – of revelation, response and revenge that will leave few unaffected, be they young or old, teachers, pupils, parents or the authorities. These confessions allow the whole story to unfold from differing and morally variable angles. Each person’s motives and desires have come about as a result of their circumstances and each perspective is very, very different.

Confessions is an utterly engaging and thoroughly absorbing examination of a dreadful situation, that is, at times, deliberately contradictory. When we first hear Moriguchi sensei indicate that she feels ‘lacking as a teacher’, her assertion that she tries to ‘see things your way’ makes her statement seem deliberately self-effacing although it later becomes apparent that her issues are derived from the many tragedies in her life but also her way of devising a form of revenge against the teenagers who murdered of her child. She is concerned with developing a perception of justice to a group of schoolchildren who know that there are no repercussions for their actions. This is the film’s strong point – the variety of issues that are addressed appear on the surface to be a part of everyday normality, particularly from the viewpoint of the youths’ social behaviour. In many ways you can imagine many of the children could easily be associated with the horrific gameshow of Battle Royale. And then you witness their guardians – teachers or parents – who are willing to become involved in acts that are as horrendous in their execution. The film also approaches wider societal issues – most notably in the classroom dynamics dealing with topics such as student respect, disability, parental and romantic relationships, psychological torture, HIV/AIDS and bullying. Incidents of violence are shown in their horror, with a frighteningly apparent air of normality. Those seeking the enjoyable excesses of Asian cinema fiction will find the social and vocal nature of the film more realistic and less deliberately extreme, while those more accustomed to artistic drama will find the scenes of violence shocking in their combination of detailed and almost fantastical style.

Whilst the concept of unfolding a story through the revelations and differing perspectives of its characters is not new, Confessions offers a fresh approach by taking its sides from multiple angles and reveals not only changes in the audience’s understanding of events but also alterations of timescale and moralistic attitudes in a way that changes or at least challenges everyone’s perceptions of the story and the people involved. Tetsuya Nakashima focuses particularly on the attitudes and responses of teenagers who have the power to inflict nastiness through their possessions, their appearance or their peer groups as well as possessing a frightening intellectual understanding of their legal responsibilities. He approaches this from as realistic a film-making technique as can be implemented for such a diverse and controversial subject.

Confessions is utterly compelling and essential viewing. It remains distinctly intelligent in both its structure and its execution and is further indication that Tetsuya Nakashima is a director worth watching as it manages to be clearly his work but fundamentally different to his previous films.