The Third Murder (2017)

The Third Murder by Hirokazu Koreeda is a totally absorbing philosophical exploration of the nature of truth and freedom and whether they can exist, the difference between the law and justice, and whether anything differentiates murder and the death penalty.

The Elephant in the Room

by Alexa Dalby

The Third Murder

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

In the opening sequence see Misumi (played by veteran Japanese actor Koji Yakusho) bludgeon someone to death in a struggle by a river bed, so from the outset there is no doubt that is what we saw. And Misumi is happy to confess to the murder. The victim was his boss, the owner of the food factory where he worked. But why did he do it? His defence lawyer is Shigemori (Masharu Fukuyama), who by chance is also the son of the now-retired judge when Misumi was on trial for another murder 30 years before.

Though Misumi seems happy to accept either more incarceration or the death penalty, Shigemori, on his behalf, is not. He feels compelled to do his duty to his client and find extenuating circumstances, and there is no evidence against him, only his confession. But when Shigemori digs deeper, he finds that the single incident of the murder has many unexpected facets that start to unpeel themselves like the layers of an onion and, to his frustration, his client calmly keeps changing his story. It’s as if he doesn’t want to be ‘saved’.

The Third Murder draws you in and is totally absorbing. It’s told mainly in close-ups as questioner and answerer go head to head. Misumi and Shigemori are filmed at times either side of the glass screen that separates them in the prison interview room as they talk to each other through it. Sometimes their reflections are superimposed. It’s shot in grey-blue tones, as chilly as the snow in the northern town of Hokkaido Shigemore visits, searching for explanations. Why were Misumi and his boss alone at the river bed at night? Did Misumi kill him and burn his body as a robbery? He had just been fired and he took his wallet. Was he paid to kill him by the man’s wife as a magazine interview stated? She too is hiding a secret. Did he do it to protect the man’s daughter (Suzu Hirose)? Is that what he won’t reveal?

The case preparation ends in a courtroom drama as Misumi’s complexities are fed through an inflexible legal system designed only to process him in the time allotted. His resigned detachment from his fate and refusal to conform to expectations seems almost saintlike. Ironically, a lawyer castigates him for trying to solve his problem by killing someone. What then, Misumi asks, is the death penalty that will be imposed on him? Is that is the third murder of the title?

There are fragments, clues, and it’s possible to create your own narrative from them. Yet finding the truth is as elusive as a group of blind men trying to describe an elephant that they have touched only in part, one of his lawyers comments. The Third Murder is a deep and intriguing moral puzzle encompassing many aspects, which will stay with you long after it’s over.

The Third Murder screened at the Venice Biennale and the Toronto International Film Festival and is released on 23 March 2018 in the UK.

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