Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
The Stars: Takako Matsu, Masaki Okada, Yoshino Kimura, Yukito Nishii, Kaoru Fujiwara, Ai Hashimoto
The Story: A school teacher (Matsu) faced with a class of delinquent teens abruptly announces her resignation. Her parting shot is a startling revelation: her 4-year-old daughter is dead by a drowning ruled as a misadventure. Yet, she points the finger of blame at two students, detailing her hypothesis of murder most foul and embarking on an elaborate, mind-boggling revenge scheme with a chilling warning to the class: that she has already poisoned Boy A and Boy B right then and there.
The Buzz: This film directed by Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls) was based on a 2008 novel by Kanae Minato, which has sold in excess of 700,000 copies. The film itself has also scored big with cinemagoers, staying number one at the Japanese box office for four weeks.
Director Nakashima claimed that the making of the film hinged upon the successful casting of Matsu; if she had not been available, he apparently would not have proceeded with the project, which has become Japan’s entry to the Oscars.
With an emphatic tone and a visual style all its own, this film is one of the year’s best, gripping from the first minute to the last, thrilling and disturbing.
Where to begin? The plot takes the path less travelled and frequently keeps you guessing about what really happened and why. It begins seemingly a conventional revenge scheme, even if the protagonist schoolteacher appears a little too cool and calm for it.
The visual flourishes orchestrated by the filmmakers, including plenty of slo-mo sequences, sound distortions and play with colour, light and exposure, in the early going was evidence of either a colossal pretentious failure ahead, or a potentially groundbreaking and brilliant film.
Fortunately, the story veers toward the latter; it is deep, layered, compelling and gut-wrenching. It features, in turn, the confessional perspectives of each of the major characters, including teachers, students, and parents. The plot also delves into issues such as bullying, precocious genius, alienation and fear of abandonment, fantasies and delusions, and, most of all, the level of depravity and cruelty a human being, even in formative stages, is capable of.
There is a level of gore in the film, as well as a bodycount, in keeping with the extremes of human behaviour it examines. By the end of the film, one would feel like having been pulled this way and that on a long journey far-removed from any sense of normalcy.
With the film’s dark subject matter and the most astounding developments in a psychological revenge tale since Old Boy, one may leave the cinema emotionally weary, yet imbued with a strangely triumphant feeling.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.