A middle-aged man, Misumi (Kōji Yakusho), stands over the burning body of a local factory owner at the start of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s existential crime thriller ‘The Third Murder’ – a swerve away from the tender family dramas (‘Our Little Sister’, ‘I Wish’) for which the Japanese filmmaker has become best-known over the last decade. After this moody and arresting opening, we enter a meandering, thoughtful, maudlin legal drama as defence lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama), constantly in conversation and debate with his client or other interested parties, explores ways he can help Misumi, who has confessed to the crime, to avoid the death penalty at an impending trial.
The trouble is: Misumi’s story keeps changing. Did this apparently calm, considered man, burdened with money troubles and with criminal form, kill his boss solely so he could rob him of his wallet? Or was he acting on the orders of the victim’s wife? Has Misumi’s friendship with the dead man’s limping daughter got anything to do with it? And did Misumi even kill the man at all? Can he be believed?
If you’re looking for a simple whodunit and tidy outcomes, you better bring supplies: you’ll be waiting forever. This is more of an existential legal drama, throwing out big questions about how much we can ever know another person, and how to define truth and justice – all explored under the shadow of an impending death penalty. That’s not to say that ‘The Third Murder’ is entirely satisfying: when everything’s relative, there’s a danger that the ground shifts beneath your feet one too many times for the story to grip properly. Unsurprisingly, considering Kore-eda’s previous films, it’s the details of family and personal relationships that intrigue the most during this talky, opaque crime tale. It’s a curious, worthwhile diversion from a mighty filmmaker.