“Confessions of a Dog” – 2009 Japan Cuts Film Review

Gen Takahashi doesn’t like the police very much, and the police don’t like him either. This is especially true following the creation of “Confessions of a Dog,” a no-holds barred indictment of the Japanese police force.

The movie endured a long road to the theaters. Although Takahashi completed the film in 2005, he struggled to find a distributor due to film’s content. The film was finally released January this year in art house theaters, generating next-to-zero media coverage. To this day, not many Japanese have seen the movie, and it’s unfortunate because Takahashi made the film as a catalyst for reform.

Lack of audience aside, “Confessions of a Dog” is a solid activist movie: hefty in tone, frightening in content and thoroughly engrossing. The film revolves around big, friendly beat cop Takeda (Shun Sugata), who enjoys a quiet existence as a patrolman until he’s headhunted to join the Criminal Investigative Department. Although Takeda enjoys being a detective, he begins to get involved in not-so-legal practices with his fellows. Takeda is slowly indoctrinated into police force corruption, learning the ropes in smaller crimes such as entrapment and blackmail. He’s eventually trusted with overseeing serious crimes such as pacts with foreign gangsters and drugs and weapon trading.

“I sometimes have to do what is dirty work,” Takeda confesses. But he quickly finds himself lost in a system where careers are both made and broken upon a mountain of less-than-savory dealings. While Takeda’s complicity brings him new opportunities, it also threatens to swallow him whole.

The world of “Confessions of a Dog” is almost entirely corrupt, from the easily coerced court system to complicit major media outlets who gobble up press releases as truth. Takahashi shoots the film appropriately. The movie is soaked in grit and grime, awash in sickly hues, high contrast lighting and very little music.

The movie details a litany of abuses that is so shockingly wide that it’s almost too odious to believe particularly the crimes performed by uniformed police. However, Takahashi stresses that “99 percent” of the events in “Confessions of a Dog” are true. The movie is based upon the writings of investigative journalist Yu Terasawa. Dubbed the “Nemesis” of the police force, Terasawa’s reporting led to the firings of at least 100 police officers.

Naturally, the movie’s good guys are two Takahashi and Tersawa self-inserted characters: a meek photographer turned investigative reporter and flamboyant restaurant owner Ricky. It’s not explicitly clear why Ricky decides to get involved, but he eventually delivers one of the movie’s key speeches outlining the sheer magnitude of the police force’s transgressions. Full of pointed language, characters deliver those speeches directly at the audience. This lack of subtlety would derail most other cause-seeking movies, but the subject material is simply too powerful to ignore.