Thursday, July 13, 2017

Japan Cuts ’17: Memoirs of a Murderer

This dark exploration of human cruelty was made possible by the worst bottom-feeding instincts of the book-publishing industry (I’m so proud). When a notorious serial killer comes forward to explain how he committed his murders, safely after the statute of limitations has expired for his crimes, there are no shortage of houses willing to promote it. However, some will question whether his tell-all tells all in Yu Irie’s Memoirs of Murder (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Back when it all started, Wataru Makimura was one of the lead detectives on the Tokyo Strangler case. He still literally carries the scars from his encounter with the killer on his face and his soul. Tragically, he was not just an investigator on the case. He was also a victim. Not only was his partner killed in a booby trap meant for him, his missing sister Rika was presumably the final victim.

Thanks to the Strangler’s elusiveness, the statuette of limitations was eliminated for capital crimes. However, all of his known murders were committed before the change in law took effect. Therefore, when Masato Sonezaki comes claiming to be the killer in a graphically detailed memoir, the police are powerless to arrest him. The smooth talking Sonezaki becomes a media darling, but his transparently phony remorse adds insult to the surviving families’ pain. Several will consider taking the law into their own hands, but the guilt-ridden Makimura will do his best to protect them from their own impulses.

By the way, a twist will come, which viewers will know if they have seen the original Korean film, Jung Byoung-gil’s Confession of Murder, which Irie has remade. However, he added an additional sinister revelation that takes the Japanese remake into even darker places. Reflecting Jung’s action roots, Confession was structured around several white-knuckle thrill-ride chase sequences, whereas Memoirs is a darkly twisted exercise in psychological suspense. Both films accomplish their goals with lethal effectiveness.

Hideaki Ito’s Makimura is a perfect hard-nosed, square-jawed Japanese analog for Jung Jae-young, which is high praise indeed. As Sonezaki, Tatsuya Fujiwara does some of his creepiest, clammiest, and most surprising work since appearing as Light Yagami in the original Death Note movies. Plus, Toru Nakamura ratchets up the intensity as Toshio Sendo, the respected journalist who hosts their television showdown.

Even if you have seen Confession of Murder (and if you haven’t, you really should), Memoirs of a Murderer still works on every level. In fact, you can make a credible case Irie surpasses the original, even though they are considerably different viewing experiences. Very highly recommended, Memoirs of Murder screens Saturday (7/15) at the Japan Society, as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.