Sunday, March 13, 2011

DVD Review - Confessions of a Dog (Pochi no kokuhaku)

The Film

When he made Confessions of a Dog in 2006, Gen Takahashi touched a raw nerve in Japan. His epic exposé of police corruption and brutality was so incendiary the film was immediately banned in his country, failing to gain any kind of theatrical release until 2009. Watching the film now, one can see why it proved so controversial; Takahashi doesn't pull any punches in his portrayal of the police force's misdeeds, openly accusing them of violence, entrapment, drug-dealing, harassment, bribery and more. We witness all of this through the central protagonist Takeda (Shun Sugata), whose gradual decline from honest cop and family man to corrupt, lying crook provides the film with its compelling central narrative.

Sugata's Takeda is an optimistic young recruit in the film's opening scene, whose commendation for kindness and tact when dealing with a young woman – whom his horny partner had pulled in for "questioning" – brings him to the attention of his superiors, and sets up his quick promotion to detective. Being a loyal, gullible sort of character, the kind of man who always follows orders and never asks questions, Takeda is ripe for manipulation by his corrupt bosses. Confessions of a Dog shows in stark details how ingrained these tactics are at every level of the police force, and he accuses the Japanese press of being implicit in this corruption too. A couple of scenes depict a police spokesman handing out prepared reports to a roomful of reporters and essentially telling them how to write their stories, while they react with nodding obsequiousness. One renegade reporter is the catalyst for the Takeda's downfall. Kusama (Jun'ichi Kawamoto) is determined to expose the truth about Japan's law enforcement, but he hits a wall of silence with his fellow journalists and faces intimidation and threats of violence from the police.

Confessions of a Dog is hard-hitting, serious stuff, although I must confess that I found it something of a slog at 195 minutes. The film is far more concerned with the detail and realism of its drama than it is with the cinematic potential of its story, and although Takahashi does work some effective expressionist camerawork into the film, it can often feel quite static and sluggish. It's well worth sticking with for the extraordinary climactic scenes, however. Sugata, who gives a towering performance throughout, is magnificent as his character is finally hung out to dry by the bosses; a scapegoat for all of their crimes. He finally delivers a lacerating monologue, directly addressing the audience and laying bare the themes the film has explored for the preceding three hours. It's a mesmerising ending to an impressive and courageous piece of filmmaking.

The Extras

Third Window's new two-disc DVD set boasts some interesting extra features. There's forty minutes worth of behind the scenes footage that shows Takahashi working on set and features a couple of deleted scenes. The rest of the second disc mainly comprises of interviews with the director in a variety of contexts. First, we see him having a 10-minute one-on-one chat, then there's an extract from a panel discussion at the Shinsedai Festival in 2010, and finally an audience Q&A following a screening of Confessions of a Dog at the same festival. Through these conversations, Takahashi distils plenty of background detail and context for the film, and it's interesting to hear him talk about the reaction to the film from the police, politicians and distributors in Japan. Finally, there are a lot of trailers to enjoy for this film and Third Window's other releases.

Confessions of a Dog will be released on DVD on March 14th.

Buy Confessions of a Dog here