When, in your early teens, did you ever do something criminal, get caught but not really punished because “juveniles” can’t be held responsible for their actions? With a few friends cheering me on, I once started a fire that could have gone way out of control (the rusty old barrel quickly disintegrated and a grass fire soon followed). With a bit more wind (and without the incredibly fast appearance on scene by Ottawa’s finest) there could have been serious damage and tangible loss (strips of row houses a mere 100 yards away).
Consequences? A severe scolding from the fire chief and a mildly sore bottom—my father being more surprised than I that his son could stray from the straight and narrow. Case closed; just kidding.
But what about something much more serious? Murder, in fact.
In Tetsuya Nakashima’s adaption for the screen of Kanae Minato’s novel, a pair of middle-school pubescent boys kill their teacher’s (a single mom—revered husband has an advanced stage of HIV/AIDS) only daughter.
What follows is a severe case of “Don’t get mad, get even” (after the police rule “accidental death”) that we’d all better hope was entirely fictional—intelligent children don’t kill other children, right? It’s not as if they were forced to end young lives like child soldiers—that’s totally understandable: if Dad, or his surrogate in uniform, says “shoot your best friend or perish yourself”—what would you do?.
As its title implies, the film is a series of confessions by those involved on both sides of the senseless death: bereaved mother Yuko (Takako Matsu), co-killers Shuya and Naoki, the latter’s mom (Yoshino Kimura) and Shuya’s sudden love interest, Mizuki.
Naturally, intriguingly, confusingly (for some, judging by comments overheard after the screening) the various versions of the same “facts” are as different as those purporting to tell their horrific truths.
Set/written in Japan, it’s important to appreciate the culture of success-measured-by-tangible-achievement, desire to save face (How could Yuko ever marry a positive man—no matter how brilliant? Her daughter would be shamed for life.) and global influences that further excite, puzzle and enrapture coming-of-age teens. (Look no further than the Western music tracks from J.S. Bach’s haunting “Air for G String” through “That’s the Way (I Like it”)).
The storytelling is masterfully done with more than enough twists and turns—and not a few genuine surprises—to keep everyone on the uncomfortable edge of their seats.
The performances are first rate—notably Matsu’s cool, steady resolve to exact revenge without going through systemic halls of justice that will never exact appropriate punishment for the perpetrators’ heartless crime.
The few weak narrative links (especially a career scientist having no interest in inspecting a personally delivered invention from her long-abandoned son—tellingly, it’s not the boy genius who brings it home …) can be readily dismissed as quibbles.
Sadly, those who really should see this film (“part-time” parents, malicious bullies, malleable do-gooders—Yuko’s replacement, “Call me Werther” gets his fabled name magnificently soiled) probably never will. Which should only remind us all that neglected (“You don’t know how I feel”), unloved (“The sound of something disappearing forever”) or mocked (“Just kidding”) juveniles may get their fifteen minutes of fame in tragically horrific ways that even a few hugs might have prevented. They’re safe in the knowledge that most of their heinous deeds (except when a nothing-to-lose victim determinedly one-ups them) will ever be properly accounted for. JWR