What would Yankumi do?

18 09 2011

[ !!!!!! SPOILERMETER !!!!!! I’m not gonna give away the final twist but I will be talking about the brilliant first 30 minutes of the film where the first “Wow, what the *beeeeeep*?” feeling is shoved down our throats. So either watch the film and come back or I dunno, whatever, but I just want to say that the movie’s full effect is best when you go in there with an utter sense of  unknown. It’s nice to get a gut-check once every now and then :D :D :D ]

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How do you go from this…

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…to this…

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…???

Oh Riko chan, is that really you?

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While I’m sure we’ve all gone through our fair share of East-Asian revenge stories, Confessions (aka Kokuhaku,) the 2010 Japanese movie by director Nakashima Tetsuya is one of those films that manages to kick, baseball-bat and grenade some of your faith back into the whole genre again. It may not have been as perfect as it could’ve been but it still does have something pretty mighty special to offer.

If you’ve ever seen any of Nakashima Tetsuya‘s previous works and if you are one of the ones who know that the guy comes from an advertising background, then the flambuoyant overstyled visuals and the heavy, MTV-like soundtrack in Confessions won’t be so much of What-The-Is-That-Really-Necessary? kinda deal for ya. Or maybe it will, lol. Reading around, those who aren’t so fond of the film- or the director’s style for that matter- claim that Nakashima san‘s visuals are simply too flashy and too overworked. Fine, I can’t argue that. I can’t argue that there is alot going on, alot of the time. I can’t argue that the overstyling does at times disconnect the viewer from the storyline. I also can’t argue that the volume of the background music does kinda, er, not stay in the background. But I will say that it is a style that is individual to him. And compared to his previous works (Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko are the only other ones I’ve seen… what? WHAT did you just say? *shakes head* *evil sideways peer* No. NO waaayy. As if I watched the latter purely for some random frizzy-haired dude~~,) Confessions is actually a much less schizoprenically bubbling colourful visual affair, a movie that you can’t deny is meticulously edited, beautifully filmed and has a pretty provoking psychological character study and message to deliver (albeit yes, it’s all a little whacked-out.)

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Matsu Takako plays the lead role of Moriguchi Yuko, a 7th grade teacher who is softly spoken, dresses prim and proper and is groomed neatly to a tee. I wouldn’t typically picture the actress in such a dark and complex role but can I say how amazed I was with Matsu chan‘s performance. Not a single foot put wrong. You can feel every drop of anger, grievance and conflict in her character’s rippled heart. She opens up the film calmly speaking to her class of rowdy, unfocussed students, announcing her resignation because she can no longer cope with the recent death of her young daughter Manami. But this is no “I just need some time to get over it” declaration. She swears the death is definitely not an accident as the police have ruled, it is a homicide. And an unforgivable one in her eyesone that must be avenged.

Mini cartons of milk are being passed around the classroom as sensei writes the character for “life” in kanji up largely on the centre of the chalkboard (hot tip: block your ears as sensei makes that icky scratch-down-the-blackboard noise ‘ere *bites lip* *shudders*) She mellowly continues her words;

“Those who are weak of heart will in turn hurt those who are even weaker than them. If life is hard where you are, why don’t you take refuge in another place?”

Clearly, sensei is just trying to ensure her children are getting their daily calcium intake requirements and wanting to set them up for a Nobel Peace Prize… lol, j/ks, Moriguchi sensei has her own plans~~ She reveals she knows who the killers are, and that they are here- they are right here, sitting in this classroom. Yet, rather than immediately unveiling their names, Moriguchi sensei elects to refer to them as Student A and Student B, and proceeds to describe the social and academic characteristics of the two. She also brings up a man who she and Manami chan were close to, Sakuramiya sensei, and makes mention that he is an HIV carrier. By this time, the entire class, sipping on their milk, is slowly starting to quieten down and pay some freakin’ attention (all I can say is, faiight-o! *fist pump in air* Kidlings, y’all are ’bout to choke on your milk-0! *gargle-gargle* ;-)) As the 29th minute of the film rolls around, our sweet-faced Matsu Takako turns a little unsweet. Moriguchi, with the faintest of smiles, yet still as subdued in her tone as ever, confesses the information of a lifetime. She reveals to the class she has injected Sakuramiya sensei‘s infected blood into the milk of Student A and Student B. She turns around and in one swift motion, swipes the duster across the chalkboard. “Life,” had been erased. If you couldn’t guess who Student A and Student B were before, you could now (hint: look for the ones regurgitating and/or sprinting to the bathroom ( ̄□ ̄;)*yikes*~)

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I have to say this was possibly the best thirty minutes of my recent cinematic life. In fact, at the very moment Matsu chan cleaned off her chalk, I felt an intense urge to bounce up onto my feet, dust my shoulders off then rap “B!-R!-A!-V!-O!-H!” Chilling and absolutely hair-raising, I can not say this enough- this was one brilliantly acted, near-faultless, stunner of an opening.

While what follows is far from a waste of time, the rest of the film unfortunately fails to give us the same punch as the opening 30 minutes, losing some cohesive direction in the middle when they go on to tell us the story of Student A and Student B. If I had to describe the film in one sentence, I would say this- 30minutes of sublime tranquility followed by 60minutes of screaming chaos. Seriously. The last two-thirds of the movie feels like an overload of information. Though it maintains its picturesque, steeley colours and camera shots worthy of art gallery display, the pace and audio levels pretty much switches 180degrees as Nakashima Tetsuya‘s trademark flashy flair begins to kick through- in some ways, it does distract you from earnestly connecting with the characters. And if you have a headache, we can safely say that the soundtrack for Confessions is certainly not going to do you any favours. One minute we have circus-like, music box style music (that’s fine) but then WARRGGHHH(!!!!!!) The next we have Scream-Your-Freaking-Lungs-Out metal, and what, it’s fighting against what sounds like an Eastern-like mantra wail chant. Now some may much prefer to listen to a full-on *air quote open* live *air quote close* JE concert but *tweezes twitches eyebrows*>_>… although I wasn’t in love, somehow, I did find the sounds of Confession working for the film. I did appreciate it was a bit of the old and a bit of the new. In a way it got me thinking that no matter how advanced the new world is, we can never shake off the old world traditions.

It also left me with the more obvious contemplation- can teenagers nowadays really be that unpredictably scary? Like, they pretend to be all fine and dandy and well-behaved to your face but once there’s no one looking, they transform into little monsters that recognise no limits on the carnage they may cause? Director Nakashima Tetsuya has certainly presented us a very stylised, extreme perception but I don’t feel like what he has created is completely whack-a-moly off the track— the undertones are certainly relevant to what we see and hear about today. Kids are growing up much faster these days, they’re exposed to alot more at a younger age and yes, as Confessions suggests, there is the impression that they are causing more and more havoc. But are these so-called troubles apparent because of the way we are raising them? (Btw, no, I do not have children. And after this film, I don’t think I want any either, lol.) Society is fast-paced, competition is non-stop, communicative technology is advancing by the second… but are we really listening to each other? Are we listening to our children? My point is, just as I mentioned in my Gloomy Salad Days review, children don’t rebel just for the sake of it. There has to be something to Student A and Student B we don’t yet know about.

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Student A , or as we now know as Shuya, is a natural-born genius and is a seemingly effortlessly perfect student. Academics has always come easily to him. But for most of his young life, Shuya has struggled with the complex of being abandoned by his mother. Through icy, grainy flashbacks- which Nakashima Tetsuya manages to masterfully present to us as if it were one bad, shiteful dream-  we learn that Shuya‘s okasan was indeed a promising scientist who gave up her career to give birth to Shuya, committing herself to become a stay-at-home mother to raise him. But as the years progressed, the more Shuya‘s mother felt confined and the more she began to regret sacrificing her personal dream. This was not what she wanted her life to be.

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What makes it worse for Shuya is that Shuya‘s mother doesn’t exactly deal with her feelings in a way that would inspire someone to pen a “How To Be A Good Mother And Raise A Good Child Who Won’t Turn Into A Murderer” book as she finds herself constantly verbally and physically abusing Shuya. She would take her dissatisfaction out over and over again on Shuya‘s tiny frame, irrationally and uncontrollably passing blame and guilt on him for where she wasn’t at- as the viewer, you can’t help but feel for poor little Shuya. Before long, the father decides he can no longer cope with the mother’s aggressive behaviour and finally divorces her ass (good work, you say? We’ll see… >>…) Shuya watches his mother leave, and at the same time, a part of Shuya‘s spirit loses its way as well.

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Flash forward to present day, we see Shuya picking up all sorts of academic accolades, the most noteworthy being a prestigious, nationally recognised science award. Is it sheer coincidence Shuya has so much passion for science? Is it sheer coincidence that my favourite Arashi boy’s last three renzokus have sucked hardcore? Earth to MatsuJun: pick up your darn game! (Please -_-;) I think not. Somewhere, somehow, he is aching- dying– for his mother to take notice of him. But what cuts Shuya is that on the day he wins the award, another teenage student erupts over the front page news, overshadowing him, for intentionally poisoning her entire family and then bragging without mercy about it on her blog (what a total waste of your cyberspace, girl ><;) Shuya‘s article was merely a “blink and you miss it” insignificant snapshot somewhere in the middle pages of the newspaper. He mulled to himself, what does it take for the world to notice him? What does he need to do to be remembered?

From their façades, Student B, or Naoki, is much different to Shuya. A little awkward, Naoki has never really excelled at his studies, nor does he seem to have any special talents or be particularly active at the social game. As a matter of fact, the boy hardly raises an eye. Ignored by the other kids, and barely being acknowledged by his teachers, you could essentially label Naoki as “a nobody.” But being a “nobody” doesn’t mean that Naoki was happy simply staying out of the way and being shunned day in and day out. Beneath that silent exterior, he, too, was someone who wanted to leave some sort of impact. He wanted to feel existence just like Shuya— just everybody else.

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And this is where the film challenges the viewer, pushing us to deliberate with ourselves as we are shown scene by scene how these two young boys plot to murder another child. Throw in some extra teen violence where a girl (played superbly by Hashimoto Ai may I add) ends up rather buraddi bloody (Monday! Buraddi Monday! Sorry, sorry, you know I had to say that~~ Falcon me, baby xDD) and you’re left wondering how much more oppressive can this affair get. Is it right that we depict teenagers in such a gruesome light? Shouldn’t we be making films of children all happy, bubbly and drinking chocolate milk that has no, er, additional additives? It certainly isn’t the first film that portrays teenagers engaging in extreme brutalities (think Takashi Miike‘s 2001 Battle Royale, Sono Shino‘s 2002 Suicide Circle, or even the classic 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola, The Outsiders,) but I guess with Confessions, director Nakashima makes a stronger pose for the following question: to what extent do we accept the wrongdoings of our children as something they should be responsible for versus something that we should be responsible for? Where do we draw that line? Moriguchi sensei states early on in the film that as a teacher, it is her responsibility to guide a student back on the right rack, should they veer off it.  She also makes it vividly clear that she believes if a child is intelligent enough to schematically take another person’s life, then they should receive the same judicial treatment just as an adult would. Whether you are 13 years old or 30, it makes no difference- if you are conscious of your actions, you should be responsible for the subsequent consequences as well, right?

Watching Shuya and Naoki not show an ounce of remorse over Manami‘s death, I did find myself somewhat leaning towards Team Moriguchi sensei. Just a little bit (actually, I really want to sit on the fence for this one, sensei. I really, really do. Please. Do not hurt me..!) I absolutely see where she is coming from- conventional juvenile punishment doesn’t always serve justice. It doesn’t always do the child who committed the crime any good from a disciplinary and behavioural reforming standpoint. And hells yes, the bottom line is, what these kids have done is a blatant crime. It’s just that when they are that young, how much of the big picture of what it is that they are doing can they truly see? We’ve all been their age before— sometimes we really thought we knew it all but in hindsight, we can see we really had no idea (like, Kame and Jinny clearly hated each other all that time along, LOL j/ks. I know! I KNOW it’s still and forever all lurve…) And when children are simply craving attention- from us– is it acceptable for us watch them take all the judicial punishment on their own?

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By law of nature, we are the guardians and they are our children, and Naoki‘s reaction in particular after finding out what Moriguchi sensei had, you know, added sum’ in’ a lil extra to his milk and stuff, truly highlights their delicateness. He recluses himself immediately, locking himself in his bedroom behind shut drapes, coming out not to converse with anyone, nor to eat or bathe properly, but only to vigorously scrub his entire body as if to rid himself of a some sort of skin disease. His face is soiled, his hair is unruly, one look into his eyes and you see a little boy lost. Scared. Terrified. His mother can only cry to herself at what is happening to her child. Waiting to find out if you have been infected with HIV is not something a full-grown, level-headed man could comfortably endure, let alone a 13 year child. As a mourning mother, without question we can and should sympathise with Moriguchi sensei, and perhaps in some ways even root for, but as a teacher, as a living soul, what she is doing doesn’t make the most sense. It makes no sense that anyone- especially a child- has been forced to suffer to this degree.

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This also brings about the following question- just how far does a teacher’s role extend in being a child’s disciplinary figure? I mean, if I were Naoki‘s mother, I would have been mad-peeved at the woman Moriguchi Yuko, so much to the point that I would have seriously considered…… transferring my child to whatever school Yamaguchi Kumiko was terrorising at that point in time ahahahaahhhhem. In all sincerity though, teachers do have alot to do in shaping a child upbringing but at the same time, in my opinion, the parents are just as, if not more responsible. We’ve seen and heard it all before- parents relaying their children’s disrespectful, anti-social behaviour to their teachers and condemning the schools. The blame game is easy to play and in the chaos of today’s society, many of us may even find that we accidentally end up playing it. Confessions goes to show that accounting your happiness to others creates the exact opposite effect as ultimately, you are the one in charge of how you feel.

The plot regains some storytelling strength during the last segment of the film when it turns its focus back on Moriguchi and her relentless determination to avenge her daughter’s death, throwing us one banger of a final twist. We watch sensei‘s plan unfold piece by piece and the layers of her soul eaten away layer by layer by her insatiable obsession to win back what she believes would be justice. In the end though, when everything was said and done, did Yuko manage to find her refuge? Was this really where she wanted to be?

I’m not so sure.

In fact, even now, I don’t think sensei herself is sure.

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BONUS TIME!
A pic I came across on my Matsu-Takako-researching journeys…

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[Picture credit: Treasure JBox]

The memories ^_^ <3

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3 responses

4 10 2011
Ender's Girl

Oh jicks. Oh man. Those first two photos of Matsu just about socked me in the solar plexus. I mean YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE MATSU LIKE SO FREAKING MUCH RIGHT??? (oh Riko oh Riko oh Riko *gnaws on glass apple*) Films like Confessions are a testament to how much she’s grown and matured as an actress, how she can inhabit a character and convey so much with just her eyes and that soft-spoken voice of hers. I love how she keeps taking roles that challenge her as an artist. (I recently saw villon’s Wife — and dayuum IMO she was even better there than in Confessions!)

Hehe, if Matsu and Kimmy had been asked 15 years ago — while on the set of Long Vacation mebbe — what they wanted to be when they grew up, you can just imagine their answers:

Matsu: “I just want to keep on acting, improve my craft, you know? I mean, I think of all the amazing female roles out there that haven’t even been written, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to play them!”

Kimmy: “Dorama King.” *flips hair* (LOL)

(Given how it was clear from the start that Kimmy and Matsu wanted very different things, both got their wish after all — so it’s all cool then. =P)

Thanks for this wonderfully meaty review, jicks. I really enjoyed the commentary on how kids and society. Though I think I’m less lenient when it comes to juvies. I mean, some kids can have the most normal of upbringings but turn out to be total whack-jobs just the same; while I’ve known people who came from dysfunctional homes but turned out really well in life. Watching Confessions I actually wasn’t on the fence regarding Students A & B — I mean I WANTED the critters to BURN, lol. I was def. pro-Moriguchi-sensei all the way, although what you wrote at the end of your review — that even the most well meted-out revenge can yield no real satisfaction — really keeps things in perspective. ;-)

Re the visuals+soundtrack, I absolutely loved the rockin’ MTV-inspired treatment of the film — reminded me of Zac Snyder’s 300, which a lot of my friends didn’t like for the same reasons I loved it (rock-hard abs and codpieces notwithstanding). I’m one of those viewers that don’t mind heavily stylized productions if the storytelling is solid and the characters are sympathetic and relatable. The sound and visuals only become distracting if the other elements of the movie are weak and unconvincing, IMO.

But I agree with the middle part of Confessions losing steam after that brilliant classroom opening salvo. It just wasn’t the same without Moriguchi-sensei!!! (and her “fortified” milk cartons lol)

Btw the Johhny/Akame refs made my day!!! xDDD And your title question is totally giving me flashes of Yankumi and Jin + Kame dancing “That’s the way aha aha I like it” in their 3-D rathole of a classroom, ahahahaha =P

And OMG, “Falcon me, baby” -> ahahahahahaha GOLDDDDDD!!!!! You make it sound so dirty and AHLOVEEET xDDD

And thankyouthankyou for the Hero piccie!!! Kuryu+Amamiya 4vr =D

***

I, uh, also wanted to drop you these, um, present-o’s from a few of our, uh, acquaintances from J-ent. I know it’s a day late, and you’re probably gonna wring my neck and/or not speak to me again ever after this, but see — they really, really wanted to tell you smthn:

:-D

I also wanted to include Tony Leung Chiu Wai in above piccie, but (a) I couldn’t find a topless shot of him lol; and (b) I didn’t DARE commit bloody sacrilege by putting him in the same frame as our favorite J-pop tarts lol. So here goes, and many happy returns of the day!!!

6 10 2011
Ender's Girl

Okay. Weird. Them photos dinna show!!! :O Imma post the direct links then…

Photo 1:

Photo 2:

8 10 2011
jicks

I wanted to see Villon’s Wife at the Japanese Film Festival we had last year here but goshdarn I had work! Recommended based on story or Matsu Takako alone?

ahaha at your take on Kimura’s “What I want to be when I grow up” answer!!!! Complete with the hair flick, LOL. Golden xDD I agree absolutely with your view on Matsu Takako as an actress, she has definitely come a long way since the good ol’ Love Generation days and yes, she has worked hard but I also feel like she has this natural onscreen power that no amount of Yen can buy. Kinda cool seeing where her name pop up at film festivals around the world, it’s like *points finger* “I know her! I know her!” ^^;

If I had to choose between Student A and B to take the punishment, I definitely would’ve gone with.. Naoki. For some reason, I couldn’t help but sympathise alot more with Shuya, I dunno, maybe it was because he had nicer hair and teeth, lol. But Naoki is more or less like the type you describe, the ones who come from a by and large fine family but still turn out to be a freaking brat. I don’t necessarily think all kids should be let off with ease when they do something bad because sometimes, you do have to be cruel to be good to them.

Now finally, OMG, your piccies made my week!!!!!!!!! All my favourite men and boy-tarts, now saved onto my phone, lol ;) I checked it at work yesterday and started chuckling in the office, much to a coupla people’s confusion, but of course I wasn’t able to show them what I secretly indulge in after hours, lol. Tony! Tony! Tony! That is one fiiiine picture of the man (btw, looking forward to seeing his new movie with Wong Kar Wai… though kinda apprehensive if he’ll make a better Ip Man than Donnie Yen… but I have faith after all^^) LOVE to death the pic of Kame and Jin^^;;;;; And I am guessing the semi-naked boy floating in the ocean is Miura? (I wonder how you would have such a pic… or rather, how many, lol^O^)

Thanks for the awesome birthday present, E.G., kanpaiiiiiii!!!!!!

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