Tetsuya Nakashima is a director who has long been associated with a colourful and stylish mode of Japanese filmmaking, where slapstick comedy and bizarre visuals are fused with dramatic stories and themes. This has been the case ever since Kamikaze Girls (2004), Memories of Matsuko (2006), and even in his foray into child-centred magical stories, Paco and The Magical Book (2008). It might seem bizarre that he would switch from this critically and commercially successful formula to a much more downbeat story in Confessions (2010). However, Nakashima had previously made black comedies, such as Natsu Jikan no Otonatachi (Happy-Go-Lucky) (1997) and Beautiful Sunday (1998), before including bright visuals and comedic supporting characters in his later productions. Confessions is similarly colourful, though it is much darker and more dramatic. While this is not a return to Nakashima’s earlier black comedies, the story of Confessions perfectly fits his filmmaking style.
The film tells the story of Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), a teacher at a high school whose child was the victim of a tragic drowning. After finding out that the likely culprits are pupils in her class, and that they are protected by being classed as minors according to Japanese law, Yuko decides to inform her students of her suspicions. Added to this is the fact that her husband is HIV positive, and that his blood is in the milk drunk by the two students she suspects. This is only the beginning of her psychological mind games that are devised as vengeance against the suspects. Yuko calls the culprits Student A and Student B at first, but then they are identified as Shuya (Yukito Nishii) and Naoki (Kaoru Fujiwara). Their lives and stories before the drowning are revealed, as well as the consequences of Yuko’s accusations following her resignation from the school.
Confessions was misleadingly marketed as a thriller in the style of Battle Royale (2000) on its release. While it does centre on the plight of students in high school, it has none of the outlandish violence found in the earlier film. Yuko’s vengeance is more about ruining the pupils’ lives in the long-term. Naoki’s plight is revealed earlier and has a bloody ending. However, Shuya’s is arguably darker and results in more emotionally devastation for him. His interactions with other students, a short-lived love interest, and Naoki, establish him as a cold and calculating sociopath. Yuko’s vengeance ultimately cracks this tough exterior. While this summation may make the film seem predictable, the morals of Yuko’s actions are always questioned as her efforts to enact justice are slowly revealed.
A one hour and forty minute guilt trip may sound like an incredibly depressing premise for a film, but Nakashima’s direction saves this from becoming devastating or boring for the audience. Yuko’s initial monologue is intercut with flashbacks, and cutaways to the actions of delinquent students who are skipping the class. The scenes are depicted with a blue hue, which heightens the mood in the classroom as Yuko’s grim tale is told. It is also emphasised by haunting electric guitars from the songs of bands like Boris and Radiohead, which appear throughout the film. Silence would have stalled the film’s pace very quickly. Nakashima has a keen ear as well as a keen eye, and he is determined to make the viewers experience the emotions of the central characters both visually and aurally. Thankfully, he succeeds.
Nakashima has decided to keep to his vibrant style in his subsequent feature, The World of Kanako (2014), which deals with many similar subjects. It will be interesting to see if he continues to apply his colourful eye to further dark tales, or if his career will take another sudden turn in a different direction. Nakashima’s brighter films have won him acclaim from across the world, but so has Confessions, which won several international awards. He has shown how his style can be used to portray a variety of stories, and will hopefully continue to demonstrate this talent in his future work.