The Third Murder
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Misumi is arrested and charged with the murder of his former boss. He confesses. While in jail, his motive changes multiple times. His lawyer, afraid he will be unable to help his client avoid the death penalty, brings in his friend Shigemori to take over the case. Shigemori does not care about the truth; his only desire is to find the story that has the best chance of reducing his client’s sentence. This is the general plot of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Third Murder, a Japanese legal drama (with English subtitles) interested in the why of the case, instead of the who or how. Kore-eda draws us in slowly, building drama through Shigemori and his team’s investigation. He methodically takes us from the professional to the personal. Though it drags a bit once it gets into the courtroom, this is a very captivating movie when it sticks closely to its character study.
Shigemori (played superbly by Masaharu Fukuyama) is where a lot of the fascination in this story lies. He is in the middle of a divorce and has a teenage daughter, but The Third Murder is only about his personal life indirectly. He is a highly respected lawyer because of his detached professionalism and skill at getting sentences reduced. He makes it clear early on that “truth” and “guilt” are irrelevant concepts to him when it comes to doing his job. His investigation into the lives of Misumi and the victim is exclusively to craft the best defense possible. But as the case goes on, he begins to find himself becoming personally invested. It is a compelling transition that Kore-eda does not force. It happens gradually, mainly through conversations with his shifty client.
As Misumi, Kôji Yakusho gives an equally good performance in the trickier role. He changes his story so much that it is obvious he is hiding something. Since he has already confessed, why bother lying? Those questions are the center of the drama. Because he is the one with the answers, he does not get to go on the journey Shigemori does. In a way, his journey is nearly over. The mystery comes from figuring out how he came to this point where his two most likely endings are either execution or life in prison. Misumi is enigmatic, but understandable when he wants to be. It is important that he has a strong presence and the performance by Yakusho allows him to be intriguing as opposed to annoying.
The Third Murder (two hours, minus the end credits) never rushes to its plot points. It is not really a mystery or a courtroom drama. Revelation is not its purpose. It uses its genre setting to tell the story of these two men and how Shigemori realizes he may be more similar to the person sitting on the opposite side of the glass than he initially thought.
Hirokazu Kore-eda makes gentle, compassionate films. On its surface, The Third Murder seems outside of his wheelhouse. However, by making his story about the people instead of the plot, he is able to discover their humanity. The parts that do give in to the genre are not as interesting. And the ending kind of falls flat. But when he, Masaharu Fukuyama and Kôji Yakusho explore these men and their beliefs, it is gripping.
3¾ out of 5
Masaharu Fukuyama as Shigemori
Kôji Yakusho as Misumi
Suzu Hirose as Sakie
Kôtarô Yoshida as Settsu Daisuke
Written and Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda