Expectations are often the problem, rather than a bad film, when you go to the cinema a lot, like I do. And many a time I have drifted out of Screen 1 at the Renoir disappointed that a favourite boutique arthouse director had not lived up to his previous work. The problem being that their previous work I probably went to with no expectations at all and was pleasantly surprised. Pleasant surprise has the habit of becoming awestruck respect, and in some cases films which you “discovered” are hugely over-rated. And thus their poor, but not significantly poor successors end up in this list because the expectation outweighed that of what any film could seriously provide.
I have been torn about my number two for this reason. Confessions was a film I had a strong reaction against, but was it because I had seen Tetsuya Nakashima two previous films in the two previous weeks on DVD. Both Memories Of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls had pulled me out of a long standing funk about the paucity of decent recent Japanese films. Pop savvy but fun, moving about the human stories tied into our newer archetypes. Sharp, with strong female leads and stories I hadn’t seen before told in a way I hadn’t seen before. And so I was really rather excited to see Confessions at the ICA, a dark high school tale exposing the pressure of Japanese public schools and the cruelty children to their peers.
Here is a graph of my reaction to Confessions as I watched it. My dislike building arithmetically to an uncomfortable boiling point near the end.
I hated it. And such a visceral reaction came out of me from almost the first twenty minutes. The visual flair from the previous movies had been tamed, the story was not only offensively over the top it also made little sense and was so bizarre that it couldn’t work as a commentary, satire or – well – anything. And yet when I came out, the only thing that could adequately describe my dislike of the film was to say it has Radiohead on the soundtrack. Proper 90’s, mopey, film soundtrack of the disenfranchised teen Radiohead. You know, the Radiohead that Radiohead are embarrassed of.
Its quite possible that the ubiquity of Radiohead in film soundtracks fifteen years ago, in films like this, has soured me on them forever. But what it has soured me on is the use of Radiohead as shorthand for the angsty teen. For the murderous evil teen depression which is all over Confessions like no teenage who ever existed. It’s a film which starts with a child who is infected with HIV, stabbing other kids with a needle contaminated with his own blood. And then gets darker, sillier and less relatable by the second. There are slow motion bombs, there are handwringing suicides and the tone is so portentous that you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a Public Service Announcement. When you finally discover what it is all about, who the real apparent mastermind of the beyond far fetched plot is, if you ever had any goodwill towards any part of the movie it gets torn to shreds. Confessions is a multi-layer revenge story where the dish is not only served cold, but served via clockwork robots made of brown paper and fairy breath. It is that ridiculous – whilst all the while pretending to be IMPORTANT.
Confessions is based on a novel, and I cannot help but think, and want to think, that the problems with the film (the lousy characters, the ridiculous plot) are likely faults of the book. I want to think that because I want Nakashima to bounce back, go back to his previous films which delighted me so much. Because Confessions was toxic to me.
Here see if the trailer works for you…