Hirokazu Kore-eda is best known as a master of the intimate Japanese family drama, with slow burns of films like Nobody Knows and After The Storm.
In his latest outing, The Third Murder changes up the formula a little, focusing instead on a legal thriller that has as many twists and turns as a typical film noir. Directed and written by Kore-eda himself, The Third Murder opens on a brief crime scene as murder-robbery suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) sets something aflame. Fast forward and he’s been arrested and set to be put on trial for the murder of his boss, with our protagonist Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) as his attorney. But as Shigemori attempts to get to the bottom of the case, Misumi’s story warps and changes with each progressive scene. Throw in complications such as Misumi’s previous convictions of another murder 30 years ago and suspicious testimonies from the victim’s family, and Shigemori requires a complete turnabout to win the case and shed light on the affair once and for all.
Richer in visuals but still striking of his typical conversation heavy style, The Third Murder takes its time to unravel over its 2 hour duration. There are very few times audiences know exactly what is going on, as the story continues to shift and leave Shigemori more confused than ever before. But there really is no need to understand – the joy of The Third Murder comes from the performances of its cast. Privy to their private conversations and tears shed in private, the victim’s widow and her daughter (Yuki Saito and Suzu Hirose) share a quiet moment that embodies grief itself, while Shigemori’s frustration plays out across his face, an intensity to his craft that makes clear the stress of being a lawyer.
Kore-eda excels at creating emotion from the least talky parts of his film. Even when Misumi speaks cryptically, there is a moment where he reaches his hand out and presses it against the glass barrier, asking Shigemori to follow suit so he can feel some warmth, in a rare moment of genuine connection. The recurring theme of temperature and weather doesn’t just stop there, and there’s a glorious scene in which we see characters creating snow angels in a field far away from the city as the camera pans out, cementing this as perhaps one of Kore-eda’s most cinematic films yet.
In the end, it’s not the plot payoff that Kore-eda is rewarding you with, but the moody journey he takes you on as you sink into the mystery and allow its neo-noir sensibilities to drive the film. A powerful story of self-sacrifice and the holes of justice in the legal system, The Third Murder leaves you stone cold sober by the end of its run, and questioning the very reliability of the people around us for a long while.
The Third Murder will be in UK cinemas 23rd March.