Kore-eda Hirokazu intrigues with his investigative crime drama, The Third Murder, but the film falls prey to contrivances that sell it short.
When Misumi (Yakusho Kôji), an employee at a food packaging plant, confesses to the murder of his boss, hot-shot lawyer Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu) is brought on to take his case. Charged with murder & burglary, and facing the death penalty, Shigemori wants to plea the case down to murder and theft and win his client the lesser sentence of life in prison. But, Misumi’s previous conviction of a double murder some 30 odd years previous and his inability to get his story straight complicate matters.
Kore-eda crafts a film that has its roots firmly planted in the whodunits of the 40s and 50s with this talk heavy investigative drama. Where the label peels from the jar, however, is in its disinterest in the pursuit of absolute truth. As the investigation unfolds, revelations are made as new evidence comes to light that call into question Misumi’s motivation and implicates members of the victim’s family.
The ambiguity surrounding the murder serves the film well, gentling probing at the workings and failures of the Japanese justice system, notoriously recognized for its forced confessions, whilst also exploring the relationship between fate, control, power and truth.
Shigemori and Misumi’s relationship imbues a humanity into the film, marrying the two men together as people who bend the truth to serve their own greater purposes. But, this is pushed into sentimentality by an overbearing score and an underdeveloped subplot involving the two’s strained relationships with their daughters that, ultimately, feels contrived.
As the film enters its second half, it descends into a flat courtroom drama that saps the film of some of its nuance and the development of a particular detail in the case, to further muddy the waters, feels too much an unnecessary complication included to drive home a point. It’s a noble effort, but unfortunately, not enough to leave a lasting impression.