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When a legal loophole allows a series of unsolved murders’ eligibility for prosecution to expire, the fame-hungry killer, the Tokyo Strangler, reveals his identity to much brouhaha in Yu Irie’s Memoirs of a Murderer. Not to be confused with Jung Byung-gil’s 2012 Korean thriller Confessions of a Murder (upon which this is based) or Bong Joon-ho’s 2003 international breakout Memories of Murder, Memoirs starts strong but sadly spirals into overwrought melodrama before all is said and done. Coming so soon after the original Korean film and without that many tweaks to make it more reflective of Japan, it’s hard to figure out where the audience for the new pic will come from. Irie’s long history in television is obvious — there’s a demonstrable small-screen vibe to the film in its pacing, editing and visuals — making the best outlet for Memoirs download and streaming services, though it’s just grim and gory enough to attract modest genre festival attention.
Back in 1995, detective Makimura (Hideaki Ito, TerraFormars) investigated a string of strangulations with no success, and now in present-day Tokyo, the statute of limitations on the crimes is expiring. It just so happens that the killer knows exactly where he stands vis-a-vis the law, and the next day he plans an elaborate press conference exposing himself and announcing publication of his memoir. An instant best-seller, the only partially repentant Masato Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara, Death Note) revels in the limelight and, in a not completely surprising twist, arouses the ire of the real killer.
That’s just the first half of Memoirs, and to that point, Irie and co-writer Kenya Hirata cobble together a solid if run-of-the-mill thriller about the law, fame, trial by public opinion and the ethics of modern publishing (the Simon & Schuster/Milo Yiannopoulos mess instantly comes to mind). Sonezaki’s ridiculously over-the-top press conference is one part rock concert, one part tent revival and is a delicate bit of satire on modern celebrity. The guy is a killer, but that doesn’t stop the groupies from lining up.
Things take a turn for the narratively lurid when star television reporter Toshio Sendo (Toru Nakamura) gets involved. Claiming his motive is to finish the investigation he started 22 years earlier, Sendo plans a ratings-grabbing live interview with Sonezaki, Makimura and the mystery man taking responsibility for the murders. A Jerry Springer episode erupts and a longer, more convoluted story comes out, one involving plastic surgery, PTSD and a revenge conspiracy.
Though Memoirs of a Murderer doesn’t venture into any new territory in its first two acts, Irie manages a respectable level of tension and suspense, helped along by a suitably coiled performance by Ito and an oily one by Fujiwara. But as is often the case, less is more, and the “surprises” send the film off the rails in the late stages. The examination of media ethics, the public skepticism of the law and distrust of those who impose it made for a more than compelling film, and with one or two fewer twists it could have stayed that way.
Production companies: Robot, Warner Bros. Japan, Nippon TV
Cast: Hideaki Ito, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Toru Nakamura, Ryo Iwamatsu, Koichi Iwaki, Misuru Hirata, Anna Ishibashi
Director: Yu Irie
Screenwriter: Kenya Hirata, Yu Irie, based on the 2012 film Confessions of a Murder
Producer: Naoaki Kitajima, Masaki Koide
Executive producer: You Jeong-hun, Billy Acumen
Director of photography: Takahiro Imai
Production designer: Shinsuke Kojima
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
World sales: NTV
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