Hirokazu Kore-eda / Japan / 2017 / 124 mins
Available on Blu-Ray Mon 23 July 2018
This drama from acclaimed director Kore-eda concerns the efforts of defence lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to help get his client Misumi (Koji Yakusho) a lesser sentence for his involvement in the murder of a prominent businessman. However, as Shigemori investigates the case further, he begins to doubt whether Misumi committed the crime in the first place.
Kore-eda effectively conveys the shifting and uncertain nature of Misumi’s guilt, with Shigemori and his legal team discovering more details about the murder that offer multiple conflicting motives for Misumi’s actions. In particular, he uses the events to provide a chronicling of Shigemori’s growing confusion and anxiety as the trial date draws closer.
In addition, Kore-eda also appears to use Shigemori’s investigation to provide a degree of social commentary on Japanese attitudes towards the death penalty, which Shigemori’s retired judge father supports, as well as showing a contrast between Misumi’s relationship with the murdered man’s teenage daughter and Shigemori’s lack of involvement in his teenage daughter’s life. However, neither of these elements are sufficiently elaborated upon to provide any further insight into both Japanese social attitudes or Shigemori’s character, making them seem like missed opportunities that could have provided the film with greater socio-political and character depth.
Fukuyama manages to convincingly portray Shigemori’s initial confidence about his client avoiding the death penalty developing into growing uncertainty and confusion as the details surrounding case unfold. In contrast, Yakusho provides Misumi with an eerie blankness that could either be a sign of psychopathy or a result of him seemingly having no agency of his own, a point the character raises in his final meeting with Shigemori that allows both actors to play to their previously-mentioned strengths, whilst providing little answers regarding Misumi’s guilt.
The Third Murder is a compelling courtroom drama which avoids most of the genre’s cliches to depict the more realistic ambiguity arising from what appears to be a simple murder case.