The Third Murder
Stars: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose
While a procedural legal thriller from Japanese writer-director Kore-eda sounds like a departure from his usual family-focused pictures such as Distance and Still Life, this feels very much of a piece with his earlier work.
Shigemori (Fukuyama) is a middle-ranking, divorced lawyer who is reluctantly persuaded by his senior partner into defending a client Misumi (Yakusho), a two-time convicted murderer who has just committed a third, and who will be executed if found guilty. Although he has already confessed to the murder of his boss, Misumi constantly changes his story, making it unclear whether his memory has been addled or he is merely playing a game.
As the investigation slowly proceeds, details of Misumi’s relationship with his victim’s wife and daughter are revealed, causing Shigemori to question his relationship with his own daughter. A visit from his father, an ex-judge who sentenced Misumi for his first murder and whose liberal attitudes to punishment have altered, inspires Shigemori to reflect on his own ideals.
Genre addicts may be frustrated by the lack of narrative thrust and conventional resolution, with the director using the narrative as a vehicle for exploring more philosophical and existential ideas. And while it is, admittedly, a little too languid, Kore-eda devotees will savour the undertow of melancholy and richly-observed characterisation.