This year, I have gravitated more towards watching movie courtroom dramas. I watched Anatomy of a Murder for the first time. The same could be said for the Verdict with Paul Newman. I re-visited A Few Good Men in glorious 4k with pleasing results. Then I got an opportunity to review The Third Murder, a courtroom drama that takes a look at the Japanese court system when one lawyer decides to seek the truth. Even though I was about to go on review hiatus for the holiday season, I eagerly wanted to take a look, and I am glad I did.
In the dead of the night, Misumi (played by Koji Yakusho), a fired factory worker hits the back of his former boss’s head repeatedly with a hammer. After this continues for a few brief minutes, Misumi then douses him with gasoline and then sets him on fire to watch him burn. Misumi stares into the night with death on his cheek. We fade to black.
Tomoaki Shigemori (played by Masaharu Fukuyama) looks over an important file in a taxicab as he is being driven to the Yokohama Detention Center. He is the lawyer assigned to the defense of Misumi. The charge of robbery-murder is currently what the prisoner is arrested under. It would be his second charge as he just finished a stint for 30 years for a different crime. With the second charge, this suddenly falls under a recommendation for the death penalty.
Shigemori listens to Daiskuke Settsu (played by Kotaro Yoshida) talk about the defendant. Settsu was originally assigned as the defense lawyer before passing it over to Shigemori. Shinnosuke Mitsushima plays the third lawyer, Kawashima who acts as an aide to Shigemori. Settsu mentions that Misumi is pleading guilty but the story keeps changing from discussion to discussion.
Soon the trio of lawyers are able to speak with Misumi as they question him again about motive including why he was fired from his factory position and about the significance of burning the body. They also take a letter from Misumi for the victim’s family which they intend on visiting later. Later on, the lawyers discuss character witnesses and trying to reduce the charge in order to escape the death penalty if convicted.
They return to the scene of the crime to look for more clues and things they can do to solidify the defense. They question the cab driver who drove Misumi that night as well as Akihisa Shigemori (played by Isao Hashizume), the presiding judge (and Tomoaki’s father) over Misumi’s first robbery-murder charge. They even go as far as to question past employees that Misumi worked with before landing at the doorstep of the victim’s family.
The letter to the victim’s family from Misumi is immediately torn up and tossed aside by the victim’s wife (played by Yuki Saito). She also denies allegations that she paid Misumi to kill her husband and other points of contention. However, perhaps the real mystery that needs unraveling is the daughter, Sakie (played by Suzu Hirose) who is strangely quiet but plays a vital role in this grave situation.
From there, the story becomes one of Shigemori finding the truth. However, we as the audience are left to figure what that exact truth is because even though we get resolution at the end, there is still questions as to what went on that faithful night in the first scene. It also has a second layer of introducing people to how the Japanese court system works in regards to charges and workings. It might not seem all that fair at points, but it can certainly be described as just.
Koji Yakusho put on a fantastic performance here as Misumi. A lot of people mistake him for not having much intelligence but he so cleverly hides his smarts behind his unassuming personality. It’s an amazing depiction and one that warrants repeat viewing just to watch his interaction with Shigemori. Masharu Fukuyama also does an excellent job with Shigemori who goes beyond his profession to try and figure out the real story. One certainly feels that we need another film 2 to 3 years in the future to see Shigemori in another gripping case to see his development as a great lawyer.
The rest of the cast are certainly up to the task as well. There were no characters that I felt were weak or unimportant to the plot. The only criticism (and I’m reaching here) is that this film has a very slow burn. The viewer certainly gets rewarded for watching the film unravel as we piece together the solution but some viewers might end up getting frustrated and abandon it before they should. Patience is certainly a virtue when it comes to this film.
The film is shown in a 2.35:1 widescreen picture. From the information I can find, this was the first time Hirokazu Kore-eda used Cinemascope format for his picture. The resulting picture is great to look at and while a lot of scenes deal with the visitor room of the detention center or the courtroom, the outside scenes impress particularly with Rumoi, a city in Hokkaido, Japan. Surroundings are interesting to look at and do not fail to impress.
The picture is clean, I did not notice any real dirt in the presentation. Flesh tones look accurate and while the sets and budget look simplistic, it feels like a quality production. There should be no problems with watching this film as they certainly got the look they were going after. Blood looks wonderful smeared late at night with no black crush.
The audio tracks are DTS HD 5.1/2.0 tracks in its native Japanese. English subtitles are provided. Who would think that the killing of a man by hammer and then setting him on fire could feel so eloquent and soothing? That’s certainly the tone here as most of the film is underscored by a beautiful piano soundtrack. Turned up, it sounds beautiful and really helps to set the mood for the events that are unfolding.
The dialog is also crisp and easy to hear. While I can’t translate Japanese or anything, none of it sounded muffled or anything but clear and head on. The subtitles flowed well with the on-screen movements, I think I only noticed one time where it didn’t feel synced (and that might be a mistake on my part). There are a few surrounds in the outdoors scenes but these are few and far between as the movie focuses almost solely on dialog and piano scores.
Bonus Short Film – A Gentle Night by Qiu Yang 15:11 : This is in Chinese (2.0) w/English Subtitles (burned in). Played at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, this is the story of a mother and father who go to report their daughter, Lin Lin missing to the local police department. The police officer ridicules them and tells them to go home to come back the next day. Once they get home however, the mother is not satisfied with that. Hence, she will not go gently into the good night and searches for her daughter. A lot of emotion but the major problem I had was with the very open ending with no resolution.
Making of Third Murder 30:02 : We go behind the scenes with the Third Murder. As we listen to the narration, we learn quite a bit about the director, Hirokazu Kore-eda and how he chose to make and direct this film. Despite his previous experience with purely family dramas he wanted to challenge himself, so he went with a courtroom drama. He even went as far as to get real lawyers and had mock trials to study the typical interactions that went on in a Japanese court. The documentary really helps us to appreciate the work that went into this film.
Messages from the Cast 1:36 : A little bit of a fluff piece where we listen to the three main stars (Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, and Suzu Hirose) excitedly talk about the film and urge us to go see it (isn’t that what we just did?).
The Third Murder Trailer 1:37:Much like the film, a very powerful and gripping trailer.
Miscellaneous Trailers 5:50: After the Storm (2:00), Oh Lucy! (2:09) and Harmonium (1:41). Oh Lucy! looked very interesting and I’ll have to put it on my wishlist, not so sure about the other two.
About Film Movement 1:26: Gives a brief on-screen description of what Film Movement does and then gives the option to show a montage trailer of their various films. I think I saw Idris Elba in there. *Googles* There is a movie that Film Movement put out called Second Coming, released in 2014 (only on DVD). Let’s get to the final thoughts.
The Third Murder did very well at the 41st Japanese Academy Awards. It won 6 awards including Picture, Director and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. It was even nominated for categories such as Music and Sound Recording. It certainly deserves it, I found myself enjoying it more and more as the picture wore on and will be thinking about it days later past the review. It is the Japanese courtroom equal to An Anatomy of a Murder or The Verdict and should be mentioned among the elite in that genre for years to come.
The disc is excellent in regards to video and audio. While the extras are kinda meager, they do provide some insight on how this film was made. It would have been nice to have a English speaking commentary from a Japanese judge or lawyer (or both) to explain to us some of the nuances in their legal system. But that’s more of a wish on my part as I really want to know more about a court system that is not entirely clear to me. I certainly recommend this film for the performances and for the gripping drama. Enjoy.