A rare foray into more genre-style filmmaking for master of small family dramas Hirokazu Koreeda, The Third Murder is a slow-burning, twisty mystery that is ultimately too convoluted to really satisfy as a procedural. Where it does succeed, though, is in its exploration of the varied relationships between fathers and daughters, as well as in its examination of the value of the truth, and if an objective truth can even exist.
The Third Murder is not a whodunit, with the killing of a factory owner by already twice-convicted murderer Misumi (Koji Yakusho) shown to us in the very first scene, a crime then immediately confessed to by Misumi himself. Instead, his lawyer Shigemori’s (Masaharu Fukuyama) aim is to avoid the death penalty as we attempt to unravel Misumi’s motives. A pathological liar, Misumi’s interrogations soon become rather frustrating despite the interesting moral dilemmas they raise, and ultimately, the conclusion doesn’t feel worth the plodding and confusing two hours it takes to get there.
Shigemori’s teenage daughter is growing up in his absence, acting out for lack of attention and clearly on her way to becoming a consummate con artist. This strained dynamic is neatly echoed in the family lives of the defendant and the victim, Koreeda tying three remarkably different lives together with a deft examination of the shared ties that bind. All the performances are great, understated and lived in, with an easy, flowing chemistry particularly evident in the defence lawyers’ offices as they work on their impossible case.
Big questions abound – from the malleability of the past to how best to serve justice – and Koreeda provides no easy answers, making it clear that the solutions that work here are not universal. It keeps things intriguing, going some way to make up for the lacklustre central story.
CAST: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose
DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Koreeda
WRITER: Hirokazu Koreeda
SYNOPSIS: Leading attorney Shigemori takes on the defense of murder-robbery suspect Misumi who served jail time for another murder committed thirty years ago. Shigemori’s chances of winning the case seem low—his client freely admits his guilt, despite facing the death penalty if he is convicted. As he digs deeper into the case, as he hears the testimonies of the victim’s family and Misumi himself, the once confident Shigemori begins to doubt whether his client is the murderer after all.