Friday 23 March 2018


After admitting to the murder of his boss, Misumi (Yakusho Koji) is now facing the death penalty. But his lawyer, Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu), unable to find a motive for the crime, begins to dig deeper and uncover a number of factors that raise doubts about the event as described. Kore-Eda Hirokazu's new film The Third Murder is now in cinemas.

The film starts by showing us the murder of Misumi's boss, at night, down by the riverside, first bludgeoned over the head and then his body set on fire. The film then spends the remainder of its running time making us question what we saw, and asking us to work out why the crime was committed. Misumi, previously convicted of a murder in his youth, confesses and admits culpability for the crime, but without an understanding as to why he would want to commit this murder, his lawyer decides to examine the case and everyone involved to see if there is a way to get his client's presumed sentence reduced.

At face value, the murder at the centre of this film isn't the most thrilling of set ups. All the evidence is plain to see, and with a man admitting to the crime, why would his lawyer argue with what is put in front of him? It is this question that drives the film and raises more questions about the legal system and the actual role of a lawyer in the proceedings. Is it to deliver the truth or the truth that best serves their client? Can there be or should there be a balance between justice, truth and winning? There is hesitation and manipulation from both sides, expressed creatively via the conversations Misumi and Shigemori have through the prison's reflective glass partition wall.

As the enigmatic title would suggest, there is more to this murder than first meets the eye. The film slowly builds this mystery, adding more questions involving the victim's wife and daughter, right up until its dying moments. However, if you go in expecting a gripping murder mystery you may feel short changed, as although the murder is at the centre of the film, it is the dubious legal quandaries that take up the bulk of the film's story. This is a constantly evolving narrative, the outcome of which is hard to predict or perhaps more pertinently, justify. At one point in the film when discussing the likely death penalty that faces him, Misumi asks why he should not kill a man who he thought deserved it when that is exactly what the court is proposing to do to him.

Don't go in expecting a Japanese version of Zodiac and you will find that The Third Murder is able to offer something that is rare in the crime drama; a film that is unafraid to ask important, difficult questions about its own story and the criminal justice system as a whole. It is at times a slow and ponderous tale, but it builds up layers of mystery and intrigue that, come the finale, cannot be easily answered.

Verdict 4/5

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