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Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda takes on Japan’s courtrooms in legal thriller The Third Murder

Story of a lawyer defending a murder-robbery suspect, set largely in a prison interview room, asks why some human beings sit in judgment on others, and why courts are not the place to seek the truth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 September, 2017, 11:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 3:01pm

The courtroom is not where you find the truth, Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda shows in his legal drama The Third Murder, which premiered at the Venice film festival on Tuesday.

The movie, called Sandome no satsujin in Japanese, is one of 21 films from around the world competing for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded on September 9 after days of screenings, parties and red carpet glamour on Venice’s Lido island.

“Talking with some lawyers ... they told me that the court is not the place where you actually search for the truth. This was the starting point of my project,” says Koreeda.

It tells the story of lawyer Shigemori, played by Masaharu Fukuyama, who takes on the defence of murder-robbery suspect Misumi, portrayed by Koji Yakusho, who previously served time for a murder he committed 30 years earlier.

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The case appears quite straightforward, especially after Misumi voluntarily admits his guilt.

But as Shigemori digs deeper, doubts soon emerge.

The court case is concluded but the truth is never revealed, raising questions about the legal system and whether it is right that some human beings are asked to judge others – questions that go largely unanswered.

“I thought that the most correct thing to do as a director was not to give an answer because there isn’t an answer,” he said. “One just has to think about the choices, the choices of the character in that particular instance.”

Most of the key scenes are set in an interview room in jail, where Shigemori interrogates his client, sitting opposite him with only a glass wall between them.

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Koreeda says that what at first seemed a very static setting soon turned out to be a great way to emphasise the emotional turmoil of the two characters, especially as their physical movements are limited.

Unlike a regular crime story, which starts with a mystery that is resolved as the story unfolds, Koreeda sought “to give this idea of ambiguity, of vagueness that the lawyers themselves perceive ... once the verdict has been handed down”.

“So they remain in that sense of uncertainty and vagueness, and it is my hope that the public, the viewer, would remain with this sense of vagueness,” he says.