Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. In which case, Confessions (告白) operates its vengeance at optimum temperature, as this is as chilly as revenge gets. The premise is certainly a juicy one: a high school teacher resigns when her young daughter is found dead - and two of her students are to blame. But this is not some whodunnit murder mystery. The opening scene, a lengthy and dense lecture from the teacher (played with calm and quiet intensity by Takako Matsu) to her class, sets up the story and identifies the culprits pretty early on. No, writer/director Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamizake Girls, Memories of Matsuko) is far more concerned with the repercussions and ramifications of the reveal.
And these ripples become ever bigger, spreading out in very unexpected directions. The film hops back and forth prior to, during, and after the incident in question as each of the principal characters 'confess' their side of the story, and explain the reasons for their dubious actions. Even so, the characters behave and situations manifest in completely unbelievable ways. What begins as a dark tale of difficult subject matter quickly chucks logic and realism out of the window and settles for the kind of suspension of disbelief you would normally expect from a Michael Bay film. In fairness though, it's based on a book, so I can only assume it's all there in the source material anyway. Or maybe I'm just naive in thinking humankind doesn't operate the way it does here.
In any case, I probably shouldn't be surprised, given the incredibly arresting visual style, that it has little grounding in reality. And by golly is this directed to within an inch of its life. The lighting, the cinematography, the editing - all remarkable. The frequent slow-motion reaches near Darkplace levels of over-reliance, but Nakashima's film is often beautiful to behold, existing in a hyper-reality which perhaps excuse the often preposterous motivations of its characters. And anyway, Park Chan-Wook has been getting away with revenge-happy flights of fancy with no less ludicrous machinations, so I don't know why I'm getting so hung up about it. But while it's tempting to label this 'Sympathy for Vengeance-Sensei', it has a mood and an outlook all of its own, bleak and unsettling, but not gritty or gorenographic. Likewise, there are hints of Battle Royale, Suicide Club, and All About Lily Chou-Chou in its less than sunny depiction of disaffected youth, but the adults in Confessions are hardly bastions of moral standing either (I mean, trying to outwit a couple of thirteen year olds is hardly the typical 'against all odds' challenge to seek retribution, is it?).
Yet for all my misgivings, there is just something about Confessions that hooks you in and refuses to let go. The unpredictable plot, the excellent performances, the big-screen visuals, the cracking soundtrack (featuring Boris, Radiohead, and The xx). It's a film that's hard to shake off, one that I can't get out of my head, and now that I have a sense of where the film's going, its tone and intention, perhaps only a second viewing will determine if I truly loved it. Right now though, it's a very strong 'like' but I'm looking forward to seeing it again, and make up my mind, as soon as possible.