Febiofest 2018 Review: ‘The Third Murder’ a Fascinating Puzzle-Box Mystery

Febiofest 2018 Review: ‘The Third Murder’ a Fascinating Puzzle-Box Mystery

When lawyer Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) is called upon to take over the defense of a man accused of murdering his boss in the opening scenes of The Third Murder, there’s initially little doubt over best course of action to take. 

Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) has already confessed to the crime - which involved killing his boss with a wrench and setting his corpse ablaze - and video evidence exists of him entering a taxi with the dead man’s wallet and a burnt hand. 

But during interviews, Misumi seems confused about the events of the night of the murder, and needs to be reminded of what he has previously told his lawyers. 

This isn’t necessarily a problem for Shigemori, who is simply trying to obtain the best outcome for his client. Charged with murder and burglary, Misumi faces the death penalty if convicted. But if his lawyers can successfully argue that the charge should be murder and theft - that robbery was not a motive - then he would face life in prison. 

The evidence seems to support that the robbery was an afterthought, and the murder may have been due to a grudge; or, at least, it can be argued that way. And Misumi is happy to go along with the story his lawyers dictate. 

But what has really happened here? And does the truth even matter?

The Third Murder is the latest film from director Hirokazu Koreeda, who won acclaim with his family dramas like Like Father, Like Son (which also starred Fukuyama), After the Storm, Still Walking, and Nobody Knows

Unlike those intimate, small-scale films, The Third Murder deals with a premise that might have come from a John Grisham novel. But Koreeda’s measured approach to the material, which includes family life parallels between the lawyer and his client, separates it from the usual courtroom drama. 

And the film’s ultimate thesis, the futile pursuit of truth, is likely to leave some viewers unsatisfied. 

As Shigemori digs deeper into to the crime, he discovers multiple possible explanations for Misumi’s motives. And evidence that he may not have committed the crime at all. As he builds a relationship with his client, he becomes fascinated in knowing what really happened. But in taking his eyes off legal strategy and seeking an ultimate truth, Shigemori only discovers more and more answers to a riddle that he cannot possibly solve. 

Unlike the Kurosawa classic Rashomon, which which presents various accounts of the same story and argues that truth is subjective and self-serving, The Third Murder argues that in some cases there can be no truth - that what we take as fact is a carefully-constructed narrative that is only more plausible than all others.

At the end of The Third Murder, like the culmination of any real-life criminal trial, a verdict has been reached and society satisfied. But Shigemori, along with the audience, is still trying to put together the pieces and really solve this mystery.

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