WTF ASIA 214: The Third Murder (2017)

Truth, Justice, and the Law can often get in each other’s way.

Amazon.com: The Third Murder [DVD] : Movies & TV

Available in CanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries. Approximately 125 minutes.

 

 

The movie is about ten seconds in when a man starts bludgeoning another man with a wrench. It then looks like he strangles him to finish him off. And then he douses the corpse in gasoline and sets him on fire. Is this the first murder? Well, the title card shows up to tell us that it is the third.

Lawyers Settsu Daisuke, Kawashima Akira, and Shigemori Tomoaki arrive at Yokohama Detention Center to meet their client Takashi Misumi, who has plead guilty to robbery-murder. Settsu had been his lawyer, hoping to prevent him from getting the death penalty. But once Misumi started changing his story, he asked Shigemori to come help him. Shigemori is skeptical that they can do anything, but whatever. And Kawashima is there as a student of sorts and Shigemori’s assistant.

Settsu introduces Shigemori to Misumi. Apparently, Settsu had told Misumi about him before. Additionally, Misumi had known Shigemori’s father, a judge, 30 years ago, and is grateful for his treatment. Pleasantries over, Settsu asks Misumi to restate that, without question, he killed the man. Misumi says without question, he killed the man. Shigemori asks why, prefacing that the victim owned the food factory where Misumi worked. Misumi claims that he wanted money for gambling. He had debts. He stole money from the safe at work and got fired. He got drunk the day of the murder and got enraged. Settsu stops the story, as Misumi had previously said that he had thought of killing his former boss all along. Misumi seems puzzled…not denying that he had said that, but seeming like he does not know why he would have said that.   

Whatever. Moving on to the details of the crime. Hit him with a wrench. Checked to see that he was dead. Went back to the factory warehouse to get gasoline. Set him on fire, but also burned own hand in the process. Oh, Misumi didn’t bring the gasoline with him? Shigemori tells Kawashima to write that down. Settsu asks about the letter to the man’s family that he had told Misumi to write. Misumi shows it and Settsu says that he will give it to them later.

Back at the office, Shigemori asks Settsu if Misumi really wants the charges reduced, saying that he did not appear to be that concerned. Settsu would personally like to reduce the death sentence to life in prison. Shigemori asks Kawashima if Misumi has any family. He has a 36-year-old daughter in Hokkaido. Settsu says that that that is so far away and cold. Shigemori doubts that she even saw her father that much as he had been in prison for 30 years. Kawashima thinks that maybe interviewing her could give them a better understanding of her father, but Shigemori argues that neither understanding nor empathy are necessary for defending a client. A client is a client, not a friend.

Shigemori and Kawashima go to the murder site and see a teenage girl standing there. She limps away before they can talk to her. They don’t know who she is, but they assume that she is connected.

The two men look at the area where the man was killed. Kawashima does a little prayer…out of respect for the dead or because it looks like a cross?

Shigemori and Kawashima go see the taxi driver who drove Misumi to Chofu Station that night. As they look over the taxi cam footage, the driver claims that he knew that something was wrong with the guy. His hand was burned and he smelled of gasoline. Wait. Was it him who smelled of gasoline or just the wallet that he had pulled out of his pocket?

The two go to the prosecutor’s office to examine the wallet. Prosecutor Shinohara Itsuki does not understand why they are going through all this again, but Shigemori suggests that Misumi taking the wallet AFTER pouring gasoline on the victim suggests that robbery was an afterthought as opposed to a motive for the murder. Shinohara is unimpressed.

The two leave, both pessimistic about their chances. They should have been on this from the start. Misumi should not have confessed. Settsu should not have dumped this case on them. In any case, Shigemori suggests that they deliver the letter to the victim’s family. Kawashima offers to bring the usual gift. Shigemori thanks him and tells him to ask Misumi’s coworkers at the factory whether he had held a grudge against his boss.

Shigemori goes to the victim’s house and his daughter answers the door. Oh, it is the same girl from before. Anyways, he introduces himself as Misumi’s lawyer and says that he has brought a letter from his client. To her credit, the girl lets him in and goes to get her mother instead of ordering him to leave. She returns with her mother, who is understandably upset. She barely looks at the letter before tearing it up.

At the factory, Kawashima is questioning a worker named Sakurai. Sakurai tells him that Misumi was probably grateful for being employed, but also complained a lot about his pay. Also, Misumi was hardly the only worker here with a criminal record. Even Sakurai has one. Was the boss a good man for giving these people a chance? Sakurai says that the boss hired people like him and Misumi because their criminal record made it difficult for them to fight for fair wages.

Kawashima meets up with Shigemori, who shows him the letter that the victim’s wife so rudely ripped up. Victims these days think they can get away with anything.

Shigemori and Kawashima meet up with Settsu and the secretary Hattori Akiko for dinner. Shigemori tells them that they should separate the robbery from the murder, focusing on a grudge. Over pay? Over getting fired? Whatever, though perhaps the latter would be better. Settsu does not think that that is very strong. After wondering why Misumi would go all the way back for gasoline instead of running away, Akiko asks for clarification over a robbery-murder charge verses a grudge-murder charge. Settsu explains that killing for money is considered a selfish crime and Shigemori states that the existence of a grudge suggests a provocation. Akiko calls that really strange, since the murder was the same either way.

Shigemori gets woken up by a phone call. His daughter, Yuka, has caused some trouble at a store. He goes over and apologizes to the boss. He tries to explain that he is wrapped up in a murder case and has not been home a lot, which is probably why she is acting out so much. He apologizes to her and she starts to tear up.

The two go to a restaurant. Shigemori asks Yuka why she called him instead of her mother and she says that a lawyer would be of more use. She thanks her father for helping her out. It looks like she is about to leave when Shigemori asks her about her fish. She snorts. They all died. Did she at least make proper graves or did she flush them down the toilet? Yuka says that he is suddenly sounding like a real father. He kind of takes offense to that, but she tells him that he is her real father only for now. Instead of pushing back, he asks Yuka about her tears and she proceeds to demonstrate producing a tear. She says that everyone falls for it. Shigemori cannot respond, but it is just as well, as Settsu calls him. Father time over. Time for work.

The three lawyers go to confront Misumi about having told a magazine that he had conspired with the victim’s wife to kill him for the life insurance money. Misumi says that “probably” said those things. The heck does that mean? Shigemori asks him about 500,000 yen transferred to his bank account in early October. Was that from the wife? Of course, Misumi says yes. Guys, you gotta stop asking him leading questions; he will say yes to anything. Then again, when Shigemori asks him why he did not tell them from the start, Misumi says that he is not sure. There is no winning with this guy.

Okay, so, Shigemori asks him how she asked him to kill her husband. Misumi says that she emailed him by phone two weeks before the killing. Is the email still on the phone? Probably. Shigemori thinks that maybe conspiracy with aiding and abetting could work. He asks Misumi whether he contacted her after the crime. He says that he called her from a payphone and she told him that she would take care of him if he kept her out of it. Settsu asks him if they were…involved…Misumi scratches his head for a while before – oh, the scene is over.

The lawyers are watching a TV report of the new scandalous confession back at the office. Shigemori suggests that they paint the wife as the main offender. Settsu is unsure, given that they were sexually involved. Kawashima is confused. He goes through the notes and notes that Misumi did not actually say that. Settsu says that his embarrassed look gave it away. Kawashima insists that cannot count, but Akiko claims sensed it just by looking at the wife on TV. Now Kawashima argues that Misumi did not even say that she asked him to kill him either.

As Shigemori looks through the notes, Settsu expresses doubts that the prosecution will reduce the charge based on this email if they are anything like how he had been as a prosecutor. Shigemori focuses on that “take care of him” statement. That has to be about the killing, right? Or…the affair. Kawashima wonders which is true: the grudge or the insurance conspiracy. Shigemori gets getting annoyed with Kawashima. Whichever is advantageous for the client is what they will argue. It is not their job to work out which is true. So…conspiracy…perhaps the jury will hesitate with the death penalty.

Pre-trial…thingamee… Shinohara objects to the defense’s request to admit mobile phone email records as evidence due to irrelevance. The judge suggests that they are still admissible and Shinohara concedes. So, they are admitted. The judge asks the defense if they dispute his culpability. No, they don’t, but they do contest the robbery-murder charge. So, the prosecution is calling the wife, Mizue, and the daughter, Sakie, as witnesses. The defense is also calling Mizue along with the defendant’s daughter Megumi.

The meeting is adjourned, the judge people have left, leaving only the defense and Shinohara. Shinohara says that she doubts the email will stand up as evidence. Shigemori claims that it should be enough to puncture the robbery-murder charge, but Shinohara suggests that Misumi just got scared and tried to pin the blame on someone else. After some back and forth, Shinohara says that Shigemori is the kind of lawyer who gets in the way of criminals facing up to their guilt, averting their eyes from the truth. The truth? Shigemori laughs at that. Settsu tries to intervene before the argument gets heated.

Shigemori meets Misumi’s landlady, who lets him into the apartment. She seems to be rather fond of Misumi, at least as a tenant. Shigemori shows her a picture of Mizue and asks if she had ever come here. The landlady never saw her outside of TV, but she did notice a young girl come visit. She was maybe high school age and had a bad leg. She had thought that maybe the girl was his daughter.

Shigemori notices an empty birdcage and the landlady recalls that the bird died and Misumi had asked her if he could bury it outside. He goes out to where the bird grave is and, sure enough, there is a cross.

Shigemori goes to see Misumi alone. He gives him a jar of peanut butter like the one that was in his apartment. He asks about the pet bird. Misumi says that he had a canary, but it got sick and died. Shigemori says that the size of the cage made him curious, so he dug up the grave (disrespectful) and found five birds. Misumi reasoned that they would not be able to survive on their own if he set them free. One…did manage to fly away. Shigemori changes the subject to the rent. He says that Misumi had paid the landlady for next month’s rent ten days earlier than usual. So…he had planned to get arrested. For once, Misumi does not simply say yes, but claims instead that paying rent is a pleasure, and something that does not happen in prison…well…technically no, but. In any case, Misumi denies there being any other reason.

Misumi then asks that they put their hands against the glass across from each other. He claims that he can learn more about someone this way than by talking to them. This goes for a while and Misumi tries to guess what Shigemori is thinking. After some more time, he asks how old Shigemori’s daughter is. 14…uh…and uh…the scene kind of ends with Shigemori rather creeped out.

Back at the office, the lawyers are going over their defense strategy. Settsu notes that Shigemori seems less confident than usual. Shigemori lies that he is worried about how much he can sell his apartment for, but Settsu jokes that they need his cock to be firm to win this. Okay, he doesn’t say firm cock, but that is pretty much what he means. Shigemori asks how much Settsu told Misumi about him. That they were in judicial practice class together. And Shigemori’s daughter? Settsu didn’t tell him. Why? Did Misumi say something? Shigemori lies again: everything is fine.

Speaking of daughters, Shigemori waits outside of Sakie’s school until he sees her leave and then her follows her around. From a library to a supermarket to wherever.

Shigemori meets up with Kawashima. Kawashima tells him that Sakie was born with a bad leg, but she tells people that she got it from jumping from a factory roof as a child. Why would she lie about that? Kawashima doesn’t know either. Anyways, on the day of the crime, Sakie went home after school and never left. Shigemori gets to thinking…

Shigemori and Kawashima arrive at the office to find…oh, the elder Shigemori there telling Akiko why psychiatric evaluations in trials are bunk. Anyways, he is here to drop off the Rumoi robbery-murder case files that his son asked for. The younger Shigemori introduces his father to Kawashima. He also tells his father that he could have just sent them instead of coming all the way here and air out his past to Akiko.

Speaking of Akiko, how about Akiko for a daughter-in-law? The younger Shigemori says that his divorce hasn’t gone through yet. Well, then the elder Shigemori says that he can propose, which gets Akiko giggling. It is clear that the younger Shigemori wants his father gone, but the elder Shigemori says that he will stay here a few nights…maybe in a hotel suite with Akiko. That gets her laughing again.

For serious, though, the elder Shige…screw it, his name is Akihisa. Akihisa is staying with his son Tomoaki. He even prepares a meal while Tomoaki looks over the files. Akihisa says that Misumi just wanted to kill for fun and then burn the victim. Some people are more beast than human. Tomoaki notes that his father mentioned Misumi’s unfortunate childhood and poverty as extenuating circumstances in his judgment. Akihisa says that, back then, people still believed that social conditions generated crime. And he never advocated for abolishing the death penalty. And he regrets that his compassionate ruling 30 years ago led to someone else getting murdered. Now he claims that there is a huge gap between those who kill and those who don’t, and that is determined at birth. Tomoaki calls that statement arrogant and leaving no room for rehabilitation. Akihisa calls Tomoaki arrogant for thinking people can change so easily, and tells him not to try to understand Misumi’s motives. People hardly understand members of their own family, let alone strangers.

The younger Shigemori and Kawashima are on a train heading to Rumoi. Shigmori starts reading the postcard that Misumi wrote to his father a year after being released on probation.

The postcard talks about how Misumi got a job in a food factory in Kawasaki. A recent snowstorm reminded him of Hokkaido, playing in the snow with his daughter. Shigmori imagines Misumi and his daughter playing in the snow. But it is not his daughter. It is Sakie. And Shigmori is there too, getting pelted with snow. Then they lie down in the snow. The train approaches Rumoi: the last stop. Time to wake up.

After a bus ride, the two approach the house of Watanabe, the man who had arrested Misumi back in January of 1986. Kawashima asks Shigemori what he remembers about the case as junior high school student. Nothing. Hokkaido is a big prefecture and no one would remember a case from a tiny town like this. Well, Kawashima did his research: Misumi murdered two loan sharks, stole their money, and burned down their apartment. I guess that those were the first and second murders.

The two interview Watanabe. Watanabe tells him that he found Misumi outside the station the day after the murder, unable to leave because a blizzard had shut down the railroad. Kawashima asks what Misumi’s motive was. Officially, it was a grudge, but Misumi kept changing his story during questioning. So, who knows? He does explain that a lot of local men became unemployed when the mines closed, and gangsters began to prey on them. Although that could be motive for murder, Watanabe does not believe that Misumi held grudges or hated anyone: he was like an empty vessel. Spooky.

The two go to see Megumi where she works. Except she isn’t there. Her boss says that he doesn’t know where she is and wouldn’t tell them even if he did. Shigemori says that her testimony could reduce her father’s sentence to life, but her boss says that she had outright said that she wished that he’d hurry up and die. After the murder, cops from Tokyo came to pester her, so she left. Her…well, former boss…asks rhetorically how long kids have to take the blame for their parents’ crimes. Well, that was dead end.

The two go back to see Misumi, who is unhappy that they had tried to see his daughter. He knows fully well that she wishes that he would die soon, and would not come all this way just for him. He says that some things are best forgotten. Shigemori paraphrases Shinohara, saying that it is important that Misumi face up to what he did.  Misumi is dismissive, saying that people on the outside have to pretend not to see a lot of things.

Shigemori asks Misumi whether he regrets killing his boss, as he had written in the letter. Misumi claims that the other lawyer had insisted that he write that. In fact, he thinks that the guy deserved it. He says that there are some people in this world who never should have been born. Shigemori argues that that is no excuse to kill someone, but Misumi asks whether that is not how the law solves things? What? As in the death penalty? After some silence, Misumi turns around and ends the meeting, though not before Kawashima states that there is no one who should never have been born.

The two are eating at the office when Shigemori brings up Kawashima’s outburst. He disagrees with the notion that there is no one who should not have been born, as some are born into terrible circumstances and others have their lives taken unfairly. People’s lives get decided for them regardless of their wishes. I am not sure if that is a good argument, but whatever.

Speaking of people with lives that they did not choose, Shigemori follows Sakie to a bakery, where he finds her looking at a jar of peanut butter just like one that he saw in Misumi’s apartment. He wants to talk with her.

 

 

 

Back in February, I stated that there was only one film by Kore-eda Hirokazu that did not leave me bored and cold. Well, now there are two. Perhaps it is because this movie takes Kore-eda’s slow humanism and inserts it into a semi-standard courtroom drama.

The focus of this movie is defense lawyer Shigemori. He is not necessarily shady, but his job requires him to take a rather coldly cynical approach to life. All he needs to do is undermine the prosecution’s case as best as possible in front of the judge and jury; everything else is a distraction. He comes into this case as a favor of sorts, as the case looks bad for the defendant, primarily since he had already confessed. Shigemori is not interested in the truth; he is interested in a narrative. And Misumi presents another problem in that sense, as he keeps changing his story. Why he does it doesn’t matter to Shigemori; what matters is that Shigemori is able to control it before the trial starts. But, despite his annoyance at Kawashima’s more idealistic takes on case, eventually, the twists and turns eventually challenge his resolve.

Misumi is a…strange character. From what it seems like, he was born and raised in a tiny town in Hokkaido. He married rather young and fathered a child rather young. His parents and his wife, totally innocent, died from what he calls misfortune. Meanwhile, he found himself, like many men in the area, unemployed and under the thumb of gangsters. One could consider this last part to be enough motive for a man pushed to the edge. And the elder Shigemori did…at the time. Even then, though, the arresting officer did not believe it. Just like now, Misumi seemed to him like an empty vessel, willing to alter his statements at a whim, seemingly without any memory of previous statements.

For certain, Misumi can be a creepy and unsettling at times. Yet that could also be something of an act that he is putting on because he feels like that is what his audience wants to see. His landlady told Shigemori that the young girl who visited him always seemed to be smiling brightly and laughing. So, it seems like he could be warm and friendly towards the daughter of his future murder victim, and this suggests that he could be more than just a psychopathic killer.

Since Misumi has already confessed to the murder, the focus of the defense is motive for the murder. And here, the movie presents a question about the legal system. There is a strange focus on the importance of theft. If Misumi killed his boss to rob him, then that is terrible. But if he killed his boss because his boss fired him due to the constant complaints over low wages, then that is less terrible. If he killed those loan sharks because of the oppressive interest rates, then that is okay. It is as if he was retaliating against those who were robbing him. But, as Akiko asks, is not murder still murder?

Is not killing still killing? If there is a huge gap from birth between those who kill and those who don’t, as the elder Shigemori claims, then where would he put those who kill the condemned on behalf of his beloved death penalty? Misumi claims that he judged his boss undeserving of life. Does he judge himself as deserving of life? Do those who judge life and death for others judge themselves with the same level of clarity? The movie presents the trial as a game of narratives, with both sides prioritizing winning the jury instead of agreeing on the truth. Settsu claims that they are all on the side of justice, but are they really?

Early in the movie, Shigemori says that understanding clients is unnecessary. His father says that understanding others is sometimes a fool’s errand. Both may be true, but the enigmatic nature of such a client can make it tempting to try. After all, it is not as if they do not have things in common. Well…aside from the pet burial. Misumi has failed his daughter enough that he has accepted that she wants him dead. Shigemori’s dedication to his work has alienated his daughter enough that she can interact with him only by acting out and treating him as her defense lawyer. Could he lose Yuka the way that Misumi lost Megumi? Hmmm…now then, though, Misumi may have lost his daughter, but perhaps he had seen Sakie as a surrogate daughter. Did Sakie feel similarly? Is that why he killed her real father or was there something else?

It eventually starts to seem that understanding, knowing, and revealing can come into conflict. It turns out that there is more to the story than what both the prosecution and defense allege. Additionally, Misumi may be weird about changing his story over and over, but there could be reasons for him doing it beyond just playing games. Yet, pressing that helps no one, possibly harms innocents, and its usefulness to the defense’s case is debatable.

What is the use of the truth if it does not set you free? If it just hurts more people who have already been hurt? As normal, Kore-eda is not trying to provide an answer, let alone a comforting one. Perhaps there is no answer, just troubling questions that we can only try to address as best as we can. Or, which seems more likely, not address at all.

 

 

WTF ASIA 215: A Touch of Sin (China: 2013, approx. 130 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.

 

WTF ASIA 216: Night in Paradise (South Korea: 2020, approx. 132 minutes)

Wikipedia

Available in AustraliaCanadaFrance, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and perhaps a few other countries. Also, it IS available in the United States: JustWatch is lying.