Gen Takahashi’s Confessions of a Dog follows a simple, honest beat cop as he wins the confidence of the Head of the Criminal Investigative Department and works his way up, finding out as he does how corrupted the system is. Too committed to his job to reject an order, Takeda (Shun Sugata) soon sees himself embroiled in the daily transgressions of the force, from seedy backroom dealings to blackmail and brutal violence, which not only jeopardise his life but also cause him to become increasingly detached from his wife and daughter.
Although ticking in at a bum-numbing 195 minutes, the film’s length implicitly adds to its gripping intensity, allowing the viewer to become fully immersed in the correlations between crime, police corruption and the complicit media. Confessions of a Dog thrives on its deft pacing as much as on the towering lead performance given by Shun Sugata, who is increasingly unnerving as Takeda becomes trapped in the dirty business that goes all the way to the top of the force. It’s a mesmerising psychological ride that builds up to a gloriously theatrical tragic finale as the broken Takeda has to face the consequences of his actions.
The fact that Takahashi has dared to tackle such a controversial subject and has turned it into one of the finest and most devastating films about the everyday politics of corruption has unfortunately led to the film being only marginally released in Japan. But Confessions of a Dog deserves to be seen widely, and thanks to Third Window Films it is now getting a DVD release in the UK. Pamela Jahn
Sarah Cronin caught up with director Gen Takahashi on his visit to the UK last month and he told her about the complex motivations of Shun Sugata’s bent cop, the reality of police corruption and the reception of the film in Japan.
Sarah Cronin: Why did you choose to make a film about police corruption? Is it based on real events?
Gen Takahashi: Because I hate the police, and yes, it’s all true.
Why do you hate the police?
Because they trick people out of money. The things that you see in the film are just one part of what they do – they actually do a lot more than what is shown. They are civil servants, they live off our taxes, but because they are the ones in charge of law enforcement, if no one knows about the things they do, they can get away with it. So they’re very sly in some respects, and I don’t like sly people. The yakuza, on the other hand, I’m not saying I like them, but I feel closer to them, because if they do something wrong or commit a crime, they are charged and they go to prison.
How closely do the yakuza and the police work together in Japan?
They don’t collaborate, apart from possibly on a personal level, although the police need the yakuza, but the yakuza don’t need the police. They both use each other.
Can you explain the delay between the completion of the film in 2005 and its release last year? Did you come under pressure to change or re-edit the film?
Not at all. I wish I could say that, it would be quite cool. But nothing. I’m asked that question a lot, by Chinese people, by Europeans, but I think they’re making the mistake of thinking that Japanese people have a cultural and mental awareness level that is higher than it actually is. Because even the police don’t do anything about a film like this. I’ve never been threatened or been at risk. My phone has been tapped occasionally, but that’s about it. I just haven’t been proactive in promoting the film. The first distributor I brought it to took it on, so it’s not like I’ve been applying to lots of places that have been turning it down.
There’s a tradition of American cop movies from the 70s and 80s like Serpico, Dirty Harry, Bad Lieutenant that all expose police corruption. Why do you think this type of film never took off in Japan?
One reason is that in Japanese culture you’re not allowed to criticise the police. There have been a lot of characters in films who were corrupt policemen, but they are fictional characters. In Japan, people either trust the police or they’re scared of them, and they don’t want to be blacklisted by the police.
Were you inspired by any of these films while making Confessions of a Dog?
No. Everyone says Serpico, Serpico, but I’ve not actually seen it.
So what did inspire you?
There are no particular films that inspired me with this. There are filmmakers I like, like Martin Scorsese, people who bring real life into the world of film. I’m inspired by the 60s and 70s in Europe, Italian neo-realism, by new cinema in the US and the UK. Cinema rather than movies.
Why do you think corruption is so rampant in the police and the judiciary? And why isn’t there a stronger moral code?
That’s a very good question. And it’s not just the police in Japan, but all civil servants. Whatever they do, they won’t get sacked, so they’re all corrupt.
I suppose in the West we learn our history of Japan through the samurai warrior or the salary man. I think we have this idea that people are actually very moral. I don’t think we associate corruption with Japan.
The Japanese people are very moral, but it’s the civil servants who aren’t.
Because it’s so easy to get away with it?
It’s because the civil servants create society, they make the rules that benefit themselves. So nowadays you hear that there are no jobs for young people coming out of university. The average wage is Â£20-30,000 for a young person, but for a civil servant it’s Â£60-70,000. It’s because the civil servants just decide that’s how much more they’re going to get paid.
The film is also very critical of the press, who seems to be guilty of self-censorship. Why are newspapers so obedient?
In Japan you have the kisha, or press club, and they write their articles based on what the police tells them. They actually have their offices in police stations, and the rent and the phone bills are paid for by the police. So if they were to criticise the police, they would just be biting the hands that feed them.
Is the character of the journalist based on someone you collaborated with?
Yes, but he’s not one person in particular. The journalist in the film quits his job and goes freelance, and some people do that in real life as well, because if they have a sense of justice they will quit the mass media. They tend to follow the same path that the journalist in the film does – they’ll go to the internet where there’s less censorship and write their stories there. I know several people who have done that, so there was no need for me to do any special research into that aspect of the film, because I already knew those people in my life.
Why does Takeda allow himself to be used as a scapegoat? Why does he go along with it for so long?
That’s what I want to know. His mindset is the same as the kamikaze – although not quite the same, because the kamikaze pilots were ready to die for their country. Whereas this, rather than being real self-sacrifice, is a pretend self-sacrifice. They sacrifice themselves because they know that they will be rewarded later. [SPOILER] In the film, there’s the scene where the police boss says, when he gets out of prison, let’s make sure he gets a good job. There’s that sense that you’ll be rewarded. So even though you see him trying to commit suicide with the box cutter, he’s not actually trying to die, he’s not trying to kill himself – he does it in a way so that he knows he won’t die.
And they don’t want him to die either, I guess – is the whole thing an act?
Yes, it is put on. It’s all about who profits, so the lower-ranking officer can only profit by behaving the way he behaved, and the higher-ranking officers profit by treating their subordinates in that way, to have their dogs. And what I was trying to depict was that it’s not going to change. [END OF SPOILER]
In some ways Takeda is still a sympathetic character, despite his brutal criminality – was that intentional?
It is intentional. I worked together with the actor to make him a sympathetic figure. He sacrifices himself, and the audience feels sorry for him, even though he’s in the wrong. I wanted to point out to the audience that they are stupid for feeling sorry for him, being tricked by him.
I read that you do a lot of work in Hong Kong. Is it much easier to get films made there than in Japan?
I haven’t actually directed a film in Hong Kong, I’m more involved in the production side there. I chose Hong Kong because it has a history of being a launch pad into the international film world for Japanese and Asian people, so I’ve learnt a lot about the business side in Hong Kong.
Is it a better environment to work in?
The Hong Kong film industry is actually losing its power now. Setting aside the question of whether it’s easier to make a film in Hong Kong, it’s definitely more difficult in Japan.
Interview by Sarah Cronin