[Our thanks to Christopher Bourne for the following review which initially appeared when the film screened at the New York Asian Festival. With the film appearing this weekend at the Shinsedai Festival in Toronto we present it again now..]
A very lengthy feature (three hours and fifteen minutes) which, like Ryosuke Hashiguchi's film All Around Us (also screening as part of Japan Cuts), deals with the criminal justice system in Japan, and that is as deliciously engrossing as it is disturbing, Gen Takahashi's Confessions of a Dog is perhaps the most devastating indictment of Japan's police ever committed to film. Following in the great tradition of, and likely inspired by, Sidney Lumet's stories of police corruption such as Serpico and Prince of the City (which this film is most analogous to), Confessions of a Dog maps out with surgical precision the anatomy of police crimes, and the system which supports and enables them.
We are privy to these events through the eyes of Takeda (Shun Sugata), an initially diffident beat cop who is plucked from his duties at a koban (neighborhood mini-police stations common to Japan) by an assistant police inspector who takes a shine to this hulking, silent officer. At first, Takeda is puzzled and disturbed by the practices he sees and is encouraged to participate in, such as taking bribes and brutally beating suspects, but soon he becomes as adept at stomping criminals and taking kickbacks as the rest of them. The litany of outrages depicted on screen is numerous: besides the bribery and brutality, we see blackmail, sexual harassment, filing false expense reports, staged drug arrests, planting evidence, using underage prostitutes, and assaulting reporters who get to close. Most of the film's action revolves around a massive drug operation run out of the police department, making the police in this film little more than yakuza wearing different outfits. Even more outrageous than the police corruption on display is how the other parts of the criminal system, including the judiciary, and also the mass media collude to keep this rotten system in place. Judges are easily cowed and manipulated to produce the results that the police want. The same goes for the media; investigative journalism is actively discouraged by editors, as we see in a parallel story in the film of a journalist who tries to uncover the police drug operation and is thwarted at every turn by his bosses. The police feed their press statements to pools of reporters, known in Japan as "kisha clubs," who take them at face value with no questions or challenge, and uncritically parrot these statements to their respective outlets; one police official likens this to feeding their dogs.
Completed in 2005, but only released in Japan late last year, Confessions of a Dog has a fictional story, but the details come from actual incidents observed and reported on by investigative journalist Yu Terasawa, who has publicly lobbied for major changes on how the police are covered in the press, and for greater freedom to fully investigate corruption. Very few have seen the film in Japan, due both to its controversial subject matter and lengthy running time. The film's length, in this case, is a major asset, allowing us to become fully immersed in the vast conspiracy this film depicts, and becomes a great showcase for the towering lead performance given by Shun Sugata, whose progression from ethical cop, to dirty cop, and finally to a broken and betrayed man are rendered with compelling force and substance. In the film's Japanese title, "Pochi no kokuhaku," "pochi," or "pooch," is slang term for a cop, and ultimately Takeda is the "dog" of the title, giving his confession inside an empty jail cell, with no one to hear him or care.
Confessions of a Dog screens as part of the Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film at Japan Society on July 9 at 7pm and July 11 at 2:15. Gen Takahashi will appear in person for a Q&A at both screenings.
Review by Christopher Bourne