Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Confessions of a Dog - Third Window Films

When asked why he had made a film that serves as a damning indictment of the level of corruption in the Japanese police force director Gen Takahashi's response was short and to the point; "Because" he said "I hate the police."

For young men, like me, who grew up in less than affluent homes and who have spent a fair bit of time at football grounds across the country Takahashis explanation is one that makes perfect sense.  Few of us would be able to motivate ourselves to turn to the police even when we were in need of the service they are meant to provide.  Faith in the officers of the law is not something I have an abundance of.  I'm fairly sure that there are many, many fine men and women who are police officers but I am equally sure that as an organisation it is corrupt in ways that few of us could comprehend.

According to Takahashi, who is also a freelance journalist operating outside of the constraints of the mainstream media (an organisation he holds responsible, in part, for the corruption inside the Japanese police force) he has ample evidence to support the claims he makes in "Confessions of a Dog".  That the film was banned in Japan stands as a testament to the veracity of the directors work.

Telling the story of a police officer, Takeda (played by the awesome Shun Sugata), who is promoted quickly through the ranks thanks to his willingness to follow orders alongside his ability to ignore the obvious corruption that surrounds him Takahashi delivers a sprawling cinematic masterpiece that can genuinely be hailed as visceral, brilliant and unique.  From such a simple starting point he has constructed a layered expose of the sort of dishonesty and disregard for justice that renders the Japanese police impotent if there is even a shred of truth in what is portrayed. 

Officers on the beat construct situations where they will be able to make arrests in order to make themselves look good; a bicycle is left, by the officers, unattended in order to ensure an arrest for theft.  While, technically, a crime is committed and a perpetrator is apprehended one cannot escape the fact that no such crime could have taken place without the police. 

Further up the foodchain senior officers are involved in the supply of drugs and use their powers to protect their interests.  At the same time they present a display for the benefit of the public...regularly arresting those who have crossed them, those who are no longer of value to them or simply those who have been chosen as sacrificial lambs.  The illusion of justice.

This premise lies at the heart of Takahashis work...the police are as responsible as the criminals for crime. 

The biggest crooks on the screen are not the drug dealers, the pimps or the low level hoods on the street but the officers on the beat, their superiors and the media who fail to properly challenge what they know is happening.  A secret world of violence, corruption and collusion has built up inside the police force who wear their uniforms in place of the tattoos of the Yakuza.  For many young men the police force offers the chance of a career when they have failed at school...they quickly realise that the route to a better salary and a promotion is to follow orders and do the very things they are meant to be preventing.  It is a depressing story precisely because we know that there is, at least, an element of truth in it and that we suspect the same actions are being repeated in our own police force.

Running alongside all of this is reporter Kusama (Junichi Kawamoto) who acts as the moral heart of the film.  With the information he has about the extent of the corruption in the force he could cause the entire system to collapse in on itself.  Isolated and mocked by others in the media he is forced to wrestle with his conscience and decide what, if anything he should do.  Kusama is the closest thing "Confessions of a Dog" has to a hero; he is not without flaw or fear but the enormity of what he has discovered and what the consequences of going public could mean weigh heavily on his shoulders.

While their will, inevitably, be comparisons with Western directors and films like Scorcese, Coppola and the likes of "The Godfather" or "The Departed" it is worth noting that this is not a case of East immitating West.  Takahashi has crafted a film that is uniquely his and uniquely Japanese.  None of the things we associate with gangster chic in the West are present; no car chases and explosions, no glamour, no reliance on a period soundtrack and in their place a film that turns its eye on the issue that lie at its heart and then refuses to blink for three hours.

The destruction of good men by forces greater than they are and the lack of a fairytale ending combine to leave you stunned and breathless at the conclusion...a moment of cinema that is Shakespearean in its poetry and ability to say something about the human condition.  This is a film quite unlike anything else you will see this year...or in any other year.  We should be thankful that a film-maker like Takahashi exists and that he was brave enough to deliver a film like this.

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