The Third Murder (2017): Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Isao Hashizume, and Mikako Ichikawa. Running Time: 124 minutes.
Hirokazu Koreeda has an established reputation of using his films to examine complicated and troubled father/son relationships, most notably (and most explicitly) in his 2013 masterpiece, Like Father, Like Son. Although the relationship of the main character to his second to the film’s main plot, The Third Murder very much follows this trend, where the inheritance of the past is a shadow over the present that one can never fully abandon, however much one might wish to.
Shigemori is a lawyer proud of his cold practicality in approaching his professional life. He insists, repeatedly, that his own thoughts and views on a case don’t matter. All that counts is that there is a truth about each case, and this can be presented or manipulated as needed to convince a jury of the desired outcome; all else is of lesser importance. This worldview, an inheritance of his distant and often dismissive father (who had previously worked as a judge), runs straight into a brick wall when he is handed responsibility for the murder trial of Misumi, whose constant altering of his story befuddles him and his partner, forcing them to constantly shift their strategy on the fly.
Shigemori digs and digs, even traveling to the man’s hometown and paying visits to the wife and daughter of his alleged murder victim, but everything he “learns” (or rather, is told) only muddies the waters further. A series of twists regarding the man’s past and his possible (but never confirmed) connection to the victim’s daughter forces Shigemori to confront the boundaries of what he thought was real, and what he assumed the nature of good and evil to be.
This is the sort of character procedural that especially depends on its acting, and the cast of this film delivers. Masaharu Fukuyama mirrors much of the emotional distance he used to such great effect in Like Father, Like Son, and his opposite in Koji Yakusho as the alleged murderer is fascinating to watch as someone who keeps contradicting what he said before, but somehow still manages to sound firmly convincing each time he says something entirely different.
The film is also heavily marked by starkly Christian imagery. Characters refer to themselves or others as “vessels” for either good or evil, and question the nature of free will and how morality in a person can be judged, subjects that are especially central to Christian theology. Crosses appear in one form or another throughout the film as well, ranging from a traffic intersection to the leftover outline from where the murdered man was burned. Thought it may not have quite the deep power of his last movie, but Koreeda’s latest nonetheless an excellent work that leaves much room for thought and debate by the end.