Confessions (dir. Tetsuya Nakashima, 2010, Japan). I'm knocking this out now, while the effects of Nakashima's latest film, a harrowing high-school drama, are still reverberating through me — though I've an inkling this film's resonance won't totally fade away come morning, or the weekend, or perhaps even the end of the festival. Nakashima achieves something brilliant here, in the first 20 minutes of the film, in Moriguchi-sensei's (winningly played by Takako Matsu) monologue to her JH class, amid their banter and slo-mo roughhousings. She lays it all out, the impetus for the action, her young daughter was murdered by two of her students, she knew who they were, IDs them to their surrounding classmates and exacts revenge. All this accompanied by a pervasive blue tint (gone, nearly, is Nakashima's former penchant for acid-saturated color) and a slow-burning Boris soundtrack. In the remaining 75% of the film, we get "confessions" from the murderers, from one of their mothers (played almost unrecognizably, and in that sense excellently, by Yoshino Kimura) and from the shockingly pretty "misunderstood" girl in the class, who becomes close to the other murderer. It is through these vignettes that Nakashima teases out just what Moriguchi-sensei is capable of, that revenge for her little girl's death does not end for the attention-getting demonstration around the 20-minute mark, involving supposedly tainted milk. No, no, they are left to fend for themselves in the world, think about what they did, as one fuels a growing rift with his mother while the other courts his girl classmate, all the while plotting his own explosive denouement. And w/ signature Nakashima, there are many beautiful, painterly scenes, the slo-mo cascade of raindrops, the backwards motion bubbles (repeated hauntingly at the end with that explosion), the girl staring back at the camera amid the blur of classmates' bodies. Too, Nakashima's films have always carried a weight beyond the spectacle: Memories of Matsuko, despite its cheery, gilded singalong Amelie leanings, is at its heart the protagonist's grief over her sister. And yes, Kamikaze Girls had it too: don't tell me you felt nothing when biker-chic Anna Tsuchiya finally breaks down in tears on the riverbed next to sugar-princess Kyoko Fukada. But Confessions is a far grimmer tale, with each gorgeous frame followed by an equally gorgeous, painful sequence. You could call it the rippling effects of one's actions, how it disrupts others and leads to earthquake-sized changes: they may kill someone, they may be killed. But so many are affected. Each year, the NYAFF programs this one film, amid all the others I go bonkers about and obsess over and love, that just DOES IT. Though we are only midway through a fantastic festival, Confessions quite possible is that film.
Next screening: Sun, July 4, 2p (Japan Society, and it's SOLD OUT)