When a factory manager is brutally murdered, and his body burned, the spotlight quickly falls on Misumi (Yakusho), a man recently released from prison for a double murder some thirty-years previous. Misumi instantly confesses and top criminal lawyer Shigemori, who sees this as a simple open and shut case, steps in to represent him. When questioned, Misumi changes his story and as Shigemori finds out more about the case, Misumi’s story becomes increasingly malleable, forcing the lawyer to question the innocence of everyone associated with the case.
What Koreeda does well here is to blur the lines of what defines guilt; what acts are justifiable under different circumstances, when morals and the judicial system are at odds, life events very rarely being black and white. Lawyers will advise their clients to plead strategically to get the most favourable outcome given the evidence at hand, whether the plea matches the true guilt or not. Criminal law strategy being shown here as morally reprehensible as the unlawful act it is attempting to oversee. By switching the narrative from continued investigations by Shigemori and his conversations with Misumi, Koreeda drip feeds details, history and new information with excellent misdirection to keep the intrigue high throughout.
Fukuyama is excellent, taking Shigemori from an uber-confident criminal lawyer through various stages of self-questioning on both moral and legal grounds to the point of breakdown. His early comments about the grieving victim’s family – ‘Victims think they can get away with anything’ – are intentionally harsh and set the scene for the lawyer’s collapse of self-righteousness and trust in the system he represents. The scenes between Shigemori and Misumi are particularly soul-searching, Koreeda deciding to reflect the face of Misumi from the glass between the pair to perfectly overlap Shigemori’s; a constant reminder of the pliable definition of criminality. The supporting cast are first-rate too, particularly victim’s daughter Sakie, played by the increasingly wonderful Suzu Hirose (Out Little Sister).
Although the pace slackens during the final scenes of the court case towards the end, Koreeda has created a wonderful downbeat psychological thriller which constantly questions our very definition of guilt and justice.
The Third Murder will be in UK cinemas from 23rd March.
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Shinnosuke Mitsushima
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Review by Colin Lomas