After giving us the bubblegum quirkiness of Kamikaze Girls and the candy-coloured melodrama of Memories of Matsuko, Tetsuya Nakashima returns with Confessions, a superbly accomplished, original take on the revenge tale, adapted from the debut novel by Kanae Minato.
Yuko Moriguchi is a meek teacher who decides to quit her job after the death of her four-year-old daughter. But before she leaves, she lets her class know that she believes her daughter was killed by two of the students. Knowing that the law won’t help her, she constructs an intricate revenge against them. Masterfully scripted, surprising, convincing, chilling, provocative, Confessions is an impressive achievement. Below, the laconic Tetsuya Nakashima answers Virginie Sélavy’s questions about his focus on young characters, his use of colours and his interest in female characters.
VS: What attracted you to Kanae Minato’s book?
TN: The novel is basically a monologue and the characters are full of hatred. These two facts attracted me.
Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko were also adapted from novels. Why do you like to base your films on books?
It was just by pure chance. For me the characters in these novels happened to be in tune with modern life and attractive.
Narratively, Confessions is a very unconventional and complex film, with the use of successive points of view offering different angles on the story. Were you interested in experimenting with structure and narration with this film?
It was thought to be extremely difficult to make this novel into a film. But I believed it was worthwhile to try all the more for this expected difficulty.
The film works almost like a diabolical clock, everything ticking towards the fulfilment of Yuko’s revenge. Is that the effect you wanted to create?
My purpose in making this film was to dig down the inner side of Yuko Moriguchi, rather than investigate further the fact of her revenge.
It is a fantastic study of cruelty, a theme that is already present in Memories of Matsuko to some degree. Is it something that you’re particularly interested in?
I’m always more fascinated by the faults of people than by the good. Not only cruelty, but also weakness and superficiality, frivolity, etc., are fascinating.
The film offers a brilliant and chilling dissection of the dynamics of the teenage group and peer pressure. The vision of young people presented in Confessions is quite disturbing. Do you feel it reflects Japan’s anxieties about its youth, or more generally anxieties of modern societies?
I spoke with many young people in order to make this film. I have the impression that they are exposed to fear and they feel scared. And they don’t understand the cause of the fear.
It also seems to me that Confessions parodies teenagers’ self-obsession and sentimentality in some ways. Is that fair to say?
What they say in the film are not necessarily their true feelings and intentions. The best way to enjoy this film is to imagine and speculate what they really want.
How did you select the soundtrack? Why the choice of Radiohead, Boris and the XX?
I happened to listen to them all while I was writing the script and thought they were nice.
Confessions is a much darker film than Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko.
The style of image is due to the contents of the film, so stylistic changes are natural with different films.
All your films show a great attention to colour, and in Confessions the colour palette is dominated by blues.
I tried to get rid of colours as much as I could and to control them so that the film would be dominated only by the cold atmospheric blue and blood red.
In Confessions, Kamikaze Girls and Matsuko, you focus on strong, unconventional female characters. Why this interest?
Probably I just like this type of women…
In Matsuko and Confessions, they are more specifically unfortunate, tragic female characters, but while Matsuko suffers and doesn’t really fight back, Yuko turns into a frighteningly masterful avenger. Were you interested in a more active, and more morally ambiguous, type of female character in Confessions?
Both Matsuko and Yuko have strengths and weaknesses. And they both make bad decisions in life. I love them for being really human.
How was the film received in Japan?
It was a huge hit and I received variety of reactions and responses, which made me happy as I wanted it to be that way.
How did you react when Confessions was selected at Japan’s official entry in the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards?
Very surprised! But it didn’t make it to the final…
Interview by Virginie Sélavy