In addition to making unshowy, Ozu-esque meditations on intergenerational familial conflict, a hallmark of recent films by Hirokazu Kore-eda — such as Like Father, Like Son and especially After the Storm — is a refusal to judge his characters. Being a pure legal thriller on the surface, Kore-eda’s The Third Murder seems at first like a hard left into pulp, one whose surfaces are far more cinematic and impressionistic than usual. Square-jawed lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is tasked with defending the middle-aged Misumi (Koji Yakusho), who’s confessed to murdering his boss to steal his money for gambling.
But the more Shigemori investigates the case, the more he questions whether Misumi — who served time for a different murder three years prior — really committed the crime. Kore-eda raises his pet theme of judgment from subtext to text, while also contending with personal responsibility and the overall coldness of the universe; he shoots in chilly tones, and both Shigemori and Misumi have difficulty finding basic physical warmth. The Third Murder is one of Kore-eda’s most accessible films, and while it’s for the best that it has a multi-word title, in both theme and the way Kore-eda plays with exposures and block, The Third Murder could legit have gotten away with calling itself Persona. (That’s a compliment.)
Opens Friday at the 4-Star Theater.