The Third Murder

Misumi (Koji Yakusho) is arrested for, and confesses to, the bludgeoning murder of his boss. The problem for his defense attorney, Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama), is that his client keeps changing his story. The lawyer must find the truth, if not justice, in “The Third Murder.”

Laura's Review: B+

After we witness Misumi (Koji Yakusho) bludgeon a man and burn his body by a riverbank, then learn of his confession, defense attorney Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama, "Like Father, Like Son") faces a seemingly open and shut case. But with a death penalty hanging in the balance, Misumi's case turns out to be anything but black and white, his sentence potentially "The Third Murder." Writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda takes an entirely different tack from his family dramas for a critical look at Japan's justice system. This is his first film with Koji Yakusho, outstanding as the mysterious murderer who plays upon Shigemori's intense crusade to uncover the truth. The film looks entirely different from Kore-eda's usual fare as well, all film noir darkness and light instead of the the natural world. "The Third Murder" won six of Japan's equivalent of the Academy Award, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Yakusho). Initially, it appears that Misumi killed his boss because of having been fired and gambling debts. Given the case by Settsu (Kotaro Yoshida), Shigemori debates the value of traveling north to Hokkaido to interview Misumi's estranged daughter, but there is little enthusiasm, especially given that 'there is only octopus there.' But Shigemori's careful attention to detail casts doubt on Misumi's motive when he discovers the victim's wallet was soaked in gasoline, indicating that it couldn't have been stolen before the man was murdered. Confronting his client with this evidence, Misumi offers the first change in his story, implicating the victim's wife (Yuki Saito). There will be many more alterations and retractions, including one mid-trial. Kore-eda came up with this story after a lawyer told him not to look for truth in a courtroom. "The Third Murder," much like Boris Ingster's 1940 noir "Stranger on the Third Floor," defines the difference between truth and justice. But Kore-eda's film is far more subtle and layered, despite the obvious surrogates for his concepts. As Shigemori chases truth, his boss Settsu and the judge look for judicial expediency. A third, more junior lawyer, Kawashima (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), acts as audience stand-in, disillusionment slowly dawning. While technically this is a courtroom thriller, Kore-eda still involves family drama through three fathers and daughters. As it turns out, Misumi was friendly with his victim's daughter Sakie (Hirose Suzu, "Our Little Sister"), who has a bad leg just like his own estranged daughter, neglected due to his prior thirty year prison sentence, also for murder. And Shigemori is sensitive to these relationships perhaps because he, as well, has neglected his own daughter, having thrown himself into his work after a divorce. Although we never exactly learn the truth, Misumi's motivation can be intuited by his and Sakie's words and actions. Just before his sentencing, we see Misumi awash in light from his cell's window. He stretches out his hand to entice a bird with crumbs, his compassion evident (and in direct contrast to the way he told a prior story to Shigemori about a pet bird). Sakie's words and behavior are more direct. While Kore-eda's films are usually found in nature, here cinematographer Takimoto Mikiya emphasizes the institutional and industrial. The film is largely drained of color, a scene in Hokkaido a stark contrast of gray buildings and white snow. Extensive closeups between Shigemori and Misumi are often accompanied by reflections of one upon the other via the glass separating lawyer and client. Ludovico Einaudi's piano music is hauntingly lovely. "The Third Murder" could be viewed as a condemnation of the death penalty, but it is also a moving character portrait. Grade:

Robin's Review: B+

Director-writer Hirokazu Kore-eda is renowned for his films about family unification, child abandonment, hope, love and fear. They are slice of life observations about family and its importance. “The Third Murder” is a significant departure for the director but, as you watch his latest story unfold, you realize that family issues – amidst the grizzly murder and the perpetrator’s day in court – are embedded in the murder drama. Kore-eda plays with our heads when we meet Misumi as his lawyers interview him. He admitted, after his arrest, that he committed the murder for money to gamble. As Shigemori and his associates question their client, he changes his story. Now, Misumi says that the victim’s wife paid him to commit the crime and Shigemori must try to clear the muddied waters to avoid the death penalty. But, not before Misumi changes his story yet again. Be warned that you had better pay close attention to what’s going on in “The Third Murder.” The story dovetails in different directions and, besides the high drama of the murder and courtroom proceedings, there is not one, not two, but three separate father/daughter story-lines, too. (One problem I had is that the daughters resemble each other and it takes a while to sort out who’s who.) Kore-eda makes a statement about the Japanese court system and its mandate to find justice, even if the truth contradicts it. This aspect of “The Third Murder” stuck with me after “The End” credit rolled. If you expect to be given answers to he questions that are raised, think again.