The Third Murder
review by Brendan Marx
The first thing you notice about Kore-eda Hirokazu's The Third Murder is the melancholic and chilling soundtrack that subtly informs you this is no ordinary detective film. Even as you watch the opening murder, there is something tragic about it. There is some unknown detail that temporarily suspends repulsion at the violence on screen. Of course, we reflect on the desperate sorrow of the murderer, Misumi (Kōji Yakusho), subliminally aware that there is more to his story. Kore-eda Hirokazu captures your attention in mere moments and excites the inner detective of all film lovers to solve what will be a morally complex and gripping narrative. The Third Murder charts the legal defense of the murderer, Misumi, who's appeal for a life sentence over the death penalty reveals the lies and deceptions that surround the case. We follow the attorney Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) as he uncovers the hidden details of Misumi's case and must reflect on his own conceptions of justice in the morally obscure setting of modern Japan. Shigemori is, at first, an ambivalent lawyer and Misumi is a customer; the case, just another job. As the narrative progresses we observe Shigemori's transition from ambivalence to curiosity, to sincerity and, perhaps, to an alienation with the justice system. The Third Murder deconstructs the idea of truth.
We are continuously asked to analyse the frame. From the minute gestures of the nervous Misumi trying to construct a believable narrative to the presence of a seemingly insignificant jar of peanut butter and the emotional suppression of Yamanaka Sakie (Hirose Suzu) that rests just beneath the story like fractured glass waiting to shatter. Every little detail explodes into importance, even if it has little to do with the case the viewer asks "is this a clue?". Kore-eda holds your attention with masterful camera direction. The camera is very rarely still, rather pushing in or panning across in almost unnoticeable measures that pull the viewer into the film. There is, however, a silencing of a painful secret near the conclusion of the film that I did not admire (perhaps I did not understand it). Shigemori is confronted by Sakie who presents her secret to him - information critical to the trial and moral reflection of the film - but is then denied her chance to vocalize this information in court. The denial is justified as legal strategy, but then fails to achieve its end. Perhaps a second viewing will answer questions about this curious plot point.
The Third Murder is a pensive and introspective film that is held together by brilliant performances, but fails to add anything new to the canon of modern detective cinema. It achieves an interesting moral reversal that complicates the binary of right and wrong, obscuring the idea of truth in a manner that leaves the viewer with much to contemplate as they depart the cinema. However, this reflection diffuses across the numerous detective films similar to The Third Murder thus leaving the film fleetingly engaging but ultimately forgettable.