What a pleasure it is to sometimes pick up a film, almost randomly, teased by nothing more than the title, and to be welcomed by an old friend, utterly unexpectedly. That’s what happened here, when I was surprised to see an old favourite of mine, Kôji Yakusho, turn up on the screen.
In “Lakeside Murder Case”, 3 families meet up at a lakeside cabin for a weekend-long cram session – the purpose being to help their children get into a Private School. The children are put through their academic paces, and the parents are interviewed and judged for their suitability. Central to our story is Sunsuke Namiki (Kôji Yakusho), who unlike the more traditional nature of the other parents, is not totally bought into the idea. Moreover, he is separated from his wife, and having an affair with a beautiful young photographer (Yuko Mano). The girlfriend turns up at the retreat, and her agenda is a bit of a mystery. She arranges to meet Namiki at night, but whilst he is waiting for her, she turns up at the cabin and is accidently killed by Namiki’s wife. The parents all work together to hide the crime (as it will affect their children), but the reluctant Namiki suspects other things are at play here.
I have to admit, I was a little fooled by “Lakeside Murder Case”. I was expecting a straightforward murder mystery, but instead got something aiming for an unexpected target – the Japanese Private School system. The murder itself, and the ensuing mystery are really just side issues. What the film really wants to talk about is aspects of Japanese society – the urge to push the children onto better things, the stigma of divorce, about infidelity, and the balance of protecting those that you love from what is morally and ethically “right”. It also is quite damning about the nature of job-related status. In one brilliant line, one of the Mother’s tells the tutor that he has a very important job. He replies along the lines of “it’s only important to those of you that want their Children in this school”.
It’s a quite arty and dream-like movie, almost like a Japanese “Twin Peaks” (and some shots are so reminiscent of that show, I can’t believe that it was not some kind of inspiration). It is interesting how so much is not shown (such as the murder itself), whilst the actual details of hiding the corpse is done in quite a lot of detail. There are some odd touches, like Namiki’s wife being prone to prescient visions, but these are not necessarily to be taken literally – they have little relevance on the progression of the plot. I think this hyper-reality might not be to all tastes, but for me it worked perfectly.
As I said in my opening, it was a joy to see Kôji Yakusho. He was the star of most of my pre-ThingsFallApart favourite Japanese films. There is something special about him. He is a strong actor, very charismatic, but also something a little counter-culture about him. He is neither a pretty-boy, not is he that kind of straight backed middle aged Japanese “salaryman” we see so often. His looks are craggy, his hair is wild, and in this film, even though he is a bad husband and selfish, he is the centre and heart of the film. He is the one with a conscience, the only one to show any emotion. And so refreshing to see a caring, doting Step-Father, rather than an evil interloper into a family unit.
I’ll be honest. I am sure many of you won’t like this film. Little is resolved, and much of the plot actually leads nowhere (even when we are tempted by little red herrings – some cigarette butts go missing, and a mysterious character slips across the foreground at one point). The ending is both a little open-ended and maybe unsatisfying, and if the final shot is to be taken literally, then I am afraid it isn’t a terribly hopeful film. But for me it worked wonderfully, and gets the Highly Recommended.