Monday 19 November 2012

Devouring Films: Confessions (Kokuhaku)

If there's anything this year has taught me, it's that Japanese books and films can be extremely dark. I've read a fair bit of Murakami, not one bit of which has brought me joy in that normal, actually happy, way, and I've also watched Battle Royale, which is so excellent (much better than The Hunger Games, if you ask me) but so very very dark. Having been a lot better equipped to handle Norwegian Wood than basically all the people I read it with (I don't necessarily mind being sad...), I thought I could handle anything depressing that Japan had to throw at me.

Obviously, I was wrong.

Confessions is basically the most depressing thing I've seen, and lest we forget, I've seen Grease 2. This is not the same as it being a bad film, but in a way, the end result is the same. It was almost impossible to actually enjoy, because there was so little light in it that you can at once admire the filmmaking technique, and yet be not at all happy with anything that's happening, storywise. So I didn't like the film, but did I appreciate it? Well, yeah, kind of.

So here's the story: A teacher announces her retirement from the classroom along with the shocking fact that the recent death of her 4 year old daughter was perpetrated by two of the students in her class, and to get her revenge, she has put HIV infected blood into these students' milk. It is FUCKED UP. This summary was really all I knew about the film before I decided to watch it (cause I'm a really fun and cool chick!), but it really only comprises the first 20 minutes or so of the film. From there, it only gets more interesting, and more depressing, utilising a range of shifting viewpoints to present a load of lives that are just completely fucked.

I've realised that I'm really being very careful to avoid spoilers, which to me usually feels like I mean that I want you to watch this and not have it ruined for you. And maybe I do. Certainly, I really enjoyed the shifting viewpoints, the way that at one point the narration was passed from one character to another in a 'tag' style, and the way in which one event could be seen from 2 or even 3 different viewpoints, and things you thought you knew just completely flip at later points in the film. It was all very clever, and from that point of view, I really liked the film.

But then. As the film taught me, there's always another viewpoint, and this is mine. Even though I might have liked the narrative style and thought that it looked good, I'm not kidding when I say there was very little light in it. The thing is, you can either decide to like all the characters, or you can decide to hate all the characters, and it's very unclear a) what the film wants you to do, and b) what you actually want to do. It's so difficult because, in seeing everyone's viewpoint, you can see what's behind their actions and sympathise with that (an option not open to the other characters) but then their actual actions are so horrible that you just want to shake everyone and just say 'Why are you doing that? Stop it, it's not nice.' It's almost like none of the characters have seen this thing I pinned on Pinterest (shocking, I know, everyone sees everything I put on Pinterest!):
when, if they took this into account more, they'd have a lot more empathy and everything would be ok. Maybe.

The real clincher for me, in terms of my enjoyment of the film, came down to this: some really awful things happen to characters who either did or didn't deserve these things to happen to them, and yet I could not cry. I wanted to cry- I didn't want any of these things to have happened, I just wanted everyone to be friends

But I still couldn't cry because... I still didn't know whose side I was on, which kind of meant I wasn't on anyone's side which, as it turns out, isn't the best way to elicit an emotional reaction from the audience.

Frankly, it would all have been less exhausting if I just hadn't watched it at all.

Basically, I'm still not really sure I'm recommending it. I mean, if emotional numbness is what you're after then this will probably leave you with that, but it has also made me think A LOT about it (evidently) so really, I'm torn. I guess the most honest thing to say about it is that it won't be a complete waste of your time, but it might just leave you feeling a little cheated.


  1. Lol - I've watched Kokuhaku and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone either...too cruel.
    But I do love Japanese movies.
    Planning to watch Norwegian Wood next. I think it's gonna be sad (haven't read the book), but I still want to see it #iamamasochist

    1. Isn't it too cruel?! It really is.

      I kind of sort of didn't like the movie of Norwegian Wood, BUT 1) it's really beautiful, and 2) it's probably a lot better if you haven't read the book. So I hope you enjoy/weep at it!

  2. Ok, 1) Grease 2 is the best. Are you kidding me right now? Cool Rider! Let's Bowl Tonight! Michelle Pfeiffer and Adrian Zmed and RICK MANNING! omg.

    2) I... think I will be skipping this one. Your ability to watch/read this stuff amazes me to no end. <3

    1. 1) Tika, NO! Bad Tika. You will never know how much I love the original Grease, and I was SO excited when Grease 2 was on the telly and then THAT'S what I got? I don't THINK so!

      2) Haha, why do I feel like this is a nice way of saying 'you crazy depressive BITCH!' I reckon I actually would have liked this if it HAD made me cry though, and I don't even want to know what that says about me...

  3. This sounds like a rough one. I really like shifting POVs and trading the narrative via tag sounds AWESOME, but I don't think this is in the cards for me, especially since it isn't on Canadian Netflix. You know what is on Canadian Netflix? Norwegian Wood. And I want to watch it, but I feel like it's cheating because I want to read the book. Tough choices, man. Tough choices.

  4. Holy moly - I feel like every Japanese movie I've ever watched (Battle Royale included) was a tangled mess of angst and really intense feels, you know? Then again, I'm masochistic when it comes to movies and darn you, you've piqued my interest with this one! I recommend "Departures" because that one ends pretty sweetly.