Tetsuya Nakashima’s new film Confessions is Japan’s latest horror export ready to shock us senseless with its cruel and emotionless twists and turns. Or at least that’s what the trailer would have you believe. Unlike the trailer, which is in itself a micro-masterpiece, the film lacks urgency and never really succeeds in capturing the audience’s full attention.
Confessions starts in a classroom, with Miss Moriguchi, the teacher, announcing her retirement from teaching due to her four year old daughter’s death. She tells the class of unruly teenagers that her daughter has been murdered by two of her students, and that she has tainted the murderers’ milk with the AIDS-infected blood of her dying husband. The class, after hearing this ghastly confession, turns to screaming and crying and running around in a panic. The first and probably biggest mistake of Nakashima’s Confessions is the initial plotline, which simply does not make any sense. After unknowingly drinking the ‘infected’ milk, the two children start panicking, just as their friends do, who are terrified of coming in contact with the ‘infected’ pair. Despite being set in the real world in the 21st century, none of these things make sense. Everybody perfectly knows that the chances of being infected in this scenario are virtually zero – a flaw that later in the film is even addressed by the main character. Already, after the first few minutes, Confessions stands on wobbly feet.
On paper, Confessions has everything that a good Japanese horror film must have. It has a storyline muddled in revenge and loss, it has murdering teenagers, it has blood, it even has a love story in between. But the raw ingredients don’t make up a meal. The film follows each character individually as they recount their confessions, hence the title. The main problem with this feature is the pace. A potentially good story is ruined by the long and awkward silences in between. The story unfolds almost infuriatingly slowly and instead of following a straight line, more and more characters are added until the whole film feels like one big red herring. The young age of the characters and their teacher’s bad acting doesn’t help in making this film credible. Takako Matsu, who plays the main character Moriguchi, is far too quiet for her role, and her bouts of psychotic laughter seem so out of character that they almost become a parody of what a good Japanese horror is supposed to be.
But the film does have its upsides as well. When credible, most of the story’s twists are surprising and well executed and this film does manage to capture the brutality of murder in a way only Japanese cinema is able to. The scenes, if sometimes needlessly elongated, are beautifully shot and there is a recurring sense of aesthetics throughout the whole film, which adds to the visual experience of the viewer. One of the many side stories is the ‘love’ story between two integral characters, which is probably the best part of the whole film. The chemistry between the two young actors is just right, and in this case the teen angst actually works in their favour. The fact that their characters are both equally disturbed makes it so much more enjoyable to see how they interact with each other.
All in all Confessions is a mediocre film with great aspirations. Unfortunately, it was those aspirations that have made it fall. Do watch it if you are short of things to entertain yourself with, but don’t be disappointed when you can’t find either the brilliance or the gripping story of the likes of Battle Royale. After all, not all Japanese cinema can be exceptional.
Antonia Landi for Trisickle.