The Third Murder [2018]: An Introspective, Jaded Exploration of the Truth

As I sit down to write about Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest presentation, I’m reminded of Michael Haneke’s sensational attack on Spielberg’s 1993 Holocaust film, ‘Schindler’s List’. In a roundtable discussion about humanizing historical figures like Hitler and Bin Laden through films, the arthouse visionary from Austria didn’t hold back, labeling ‘Downfall’ as “repulsive and dumb”. Talking about ‘Schilder’s List’, Haneke said: “The idea, the mere idea of trying to draw and create suspense out of the question of whether out of the showerhead gas is going to come out or water, that to me is unspeakable. For me, the only film about Holocaust that, for me, is responsible as a filmmaker is Alan Resnais’ Night and Fog. Alan Resnais in the film asks the spectator; what do you think about this, what is your position, what does this mean to you?” While Haneke’s disapproval of Speilberg’s magnum opus seems to be a bit misdirected and overly harsh, his assessment of how a film should make the viewer feel is spot on.

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Kore-eda stands out as a distinguished figure in the world of contemporary cinema through his stellar, contemplative, and at times, contradictory musings about life. While he has certainly affirmed his position as one of the most important auteurs of his generation, The Third Murder does no justice to the Japanese filmmaker’s immense filmography. Kore-eda got the idea to direct a legal thriller after conversing with a lawyer friend about his experiences in court. The Third murder revolves around an ongoing murder case involving Takashi Misumi, a factory worker who confesses murdering his boss, who fired him earlier in the day, in cold-blood, and a contrasting trio of defense attorneys, who look to find ways to save him. As they progress with their investigation, stark revelations about Misumi are made which beseech the team to question his innocence.

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

Kore-eda’s nuanced understanding of life and its juxtaposed idea of truth and corruption make his work rewarding and enriching. As Haneke pointed out, a filmmaker’s true worth assumes form when his work compels you to challenge and question your beliefs about something you thought to be otherwise. The Third Murder poses a question with its compelling and intricately structured narrative that changes form throughout the runtime to the viewer and his assessment of the situation. The film manages to remain ambiguous with its characters and the situations they find themselves in. And that is the outstanding thing about the film. The 2008 film ‘Doubt’ also posed a similar question to the viewer regarding its position about Father Flynn’s innocence and the veracity of the fable weaved by the narrative. Kore-eda chooses not to supply the story with any reliable characters, whose intentions the viewer could trust or could back him to do the right thing.

This atmosphere of confusion and mistrust is what keeps the movie alive and interesting until the very end. Kore-eda’s previous works have centered around dysfunctional families and there’s a lot of evidence in this film as well. Shigemori and his father, the former and his daughter; it is almost contagious in this particular work. Despite what Kore-eda wants to do with the movie, it ends as easily predictable. The director tries a lot of different themes to fuel his loosely written screenplay and it ends as a chaotic mess. The film relies heavily on dialogue, which makes up most of the screentime. That is where Kore-eda is wrong-footed and loses control of his movie. The incompletely written characters, a failed attempt to enforce dynamic relationships between characters, and unrealistic plot twists prove to be the film’s undoing. Even though he injects life into the movie in the final half-an-hour of the movie, the adrenaline rush isn’t effective or strong enough to bear the undercurrents of the morbid first half.

As far as performances are concerned, Suzu Hirose and Koji Yakusho deliver resounding turns as grieving and broken individuals. As the movie progresses, Hirose grows as the most important cog in solving the mystery and shines in her stereotyped and contained role. The sporadic nature of her appearances on screen doesn’t help matters and forms a part of the incomplete characters Kore-eda wrote into the story. Koji’s Misumi can assuredly be deemed as the only character whose role in the narrative is uniform. His absurd confession of not committing the murder and the subsequent death row are the only events that spark emotion.

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Sadly enough, The Third Murder wouldn’t have been a matter of attention if it hadn’t come from such an accomplished figure. Kore-eda fails to conjure his usual magic and spews out a completely arbitrary, ordinary movie that will, unfortunately, prove to be a blemish on an outstanding career.



Director/Writer/Editor: Hirokazu Koreeda
Stars: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Shinnosuke Mitsushima
Duration: 124 Minutes
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Music: Ludovico Einaudi
Cinematography: Mikiya Takimoto


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