Gukôroku entices the audience with not one but two central mysteries. The first has reporter Tanaka (Satoshi Tsumabuki) investigate the cold-case murder of a family. The second deals with a psychological profiling of Tanaka’s sister Mitsuko (Hikari Mitsushima), imprisoned for child neglect. Unsurprisingly, the two plots start to converge and this is where the film starts to go off the rails.
The film relies heavily on flashbacks, and when the new information connects the two narrative strands, a lot of the previous flashbacks feel irrelevant. The film never truly recovers from this betrayal and so the resolution of the mystery feels hollow rather than revelatory.
This is a shame too, because director Kei Ishikawa shows strong promise in his feature debut. He uses all his tools as a filmmaker to express meaning. Of particular note is the effective blocking of scenes. Gukôroku also does an excellent job of conveying an atmosphere of detachment, which pulls double duty as both an expression of the hierarchy theme and of Mitsuko’s disturbed psyche.
Mitsushima is a scene-stealer as Mitsuko. Her character delves into the darkest topics, which makes her vacant performance all the more disturbing. In one scene the film channels Psycho as she chillingly delivers a plot twist in a monologue directly to the camera, mirroring Norman Bates’ final scene.
It’s such a shame that Gukôroku is not as good as it deserves to be. With some better plotting in the first half, this could have been a fantastic murder mystery film. Hopefully, Ishikawa will be able to deliver on his promise with the next film.
CAST: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima
DIRECTOR: Kei Ishikawa
WRITERS: Kôsuke Mukai (screenplay), Tokurô Nukui (novel)
SYNOPSIS: Tanaka, an investigative reporter, immerses himself in a story about a shocking murder case gone cold.