The Third Murder
Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a hard-nosed lawyer in the process of defending self-confessed murderer Misumi (Kôji Yakusho). The attorney’s only job is to reduce the sentence, steering it away from the death penalty. He is very much the type to resist emotional investment, even teaching his younger associate that “you don’t need empathy or understanding to defend a client”. Predictably, however, the protagonist grows more interested in this particular case, conducting his own little investigations. Minimising the defendant’s punishment becomes even more difficult as Misumi keeps changing his story, making the truth an unattainable goal.
In The Third Murder, revered Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda emphasises the ambiguous idea of truth and the severity of the death penalty. The themes weave and strangle each other like two serpents knotted together. The feature can be seen as a personal, political criticism against capital punishment – which is admirable – but it doesn’t reach the brutal vehemence of Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing or von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark.
The movie shines most in its philosophical treatment of truth, which is as much a suspect as the man on trial. Who do you believe? Which story is most credible? The narrative also addresses the lawyerly act of suppressing or even modifying the facts strategically, showcasing a competitive drive for victory rather than justice. These are all subjects which have been covered numerous times before, but not with Kore-eda’s large, Sherlockian magnifying glass held up to them. They’re brought right to the front instead of being reduced to a side conflict.
It’s also intriguing to watch a legal representative try to be a detective. Shigemori doesn’t have the super-human insight of Sherlock, Columbo or Dale Cooper, yet he still tries to figure it out on his own. This invites the viewer to try and unlock the truth for themselves, with the auteur occasionally dropping in visual, psychological hints through the picture – like the sign of a crucifix, which is somehow connected with Misumi. And despite not being able to rely on the various “truths”, emotion still runs deep within them. We feel for what these characters have to hide.
The ambiguously-titled The Third Murder is quiet and subtle, unfolding at a snail’s pace with long periods of dialogue. There may be too much talking, but many of these scenes are too intense and gripping to be bored by – especially thanks to Kore-eda’s patient direction and Mikiya Takimoto’s enigmatic visuals.
The Third Murder is released nationwide on 23rd March 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Third Murder here: