“Memoirs of a Murderer” – 2017 Japan Cuts Film Review

“Confession of Murder,” a 2012 South Korean film, focused on a serial killer who – after years of hiding past his most recent crime and related statute of limitations expiration – turns himself into a celebrity by authoring an autobiography.  The result was a slick, albeit extremely disjointed and eyebrow-raising, production that raked in US$18.8 million in the domestic box office.

Five years later, Japanese director Yu Irie has adapted the film and improved upon it tenfold.  The result is “Memoirs of a Murderer” (22年目の告白―私が殺人犯です―), a grittier, grimier and grimmer version of its predecessor.  Much of it is faithful to the original film, with Tatsuya Fujiwara playing the role of killer-turned-author in Masato Sonezaki.  With book signings, press conferences and media interviews racking up, Masato dangles himself as willing fodder for Makimura (Hideaki Ito), the weary veteran policeman who bears the physical and figurative scars of his inability to catch the killer 22 years prior.

The tension between killer and cop wisely eschews the temptation to rush through a roller coaster of chases and action scenes, instead favoring a persistently ominous sense of malaise, aided by a gloomy cinematography, and effortless weaving in and out of flashbacks.  Irie connects these to current events, notably the 1995 Kobe earthquake, and cleverly uses these as critical plot aids that fold into a larger issue of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which affects the main and secondary characters in different ways.  These elements combine and build into a gradual crescendo that continues even after the story’s main plot twist is revealed.  Make sure to stay through the credits.

“Memoirs of a Murder” screens at the Japan Society as part of JAPAN CUTS 2017 on Sat., July 15, at 9:30 p.m. For tickets, go to japansociety.org.