Confessions of a Dog Review

“Aren’t you ashamed?” is a phrase oft repeated in Gen Takahashi’s blistering portrait of the Japanese police force, Confessions of a Dog, and it is one that is levelled as squarely at the audience as it is the ‘villains’ presented on screen. Over the course of just over three hours Takahashi paints a depressing picture of the widespread corruption in the Japanese police force and the way it infects every area from top to bottom.

Leading us through this murky world are a variety of police officers and journalists but key is the central character of Takeda, who gradually becomes absorbed into the corrupt police force and little by little loses any sense of right or wrong. Played by experienced character actor Shun Sugata, Takeda is a wonderfully sympathetic character in spite of his immoral behaviour. Conflicted and complex, Takeda is wonderfully written and Sugata’s performance, which manages to be both imposing and laconic, is absolutely stunning.

As Takeda is promoted we see more and more of the police corruption and the way in which it is a systemic problem and not the work of one or two ‘bad apples’. In presenting it in this way Takahashi exposes the problem as one that cannot be solved by simply firing a few individuals. In the incredible climax to the film Takeda speaks directly to the audience, and the Japanese public, in a searing soliloquy that in the hands of the skilled Sugata reaches almost Shakespearian heights. The film’s central argument is focused into one savage and raw attack that whilst reiterating what we have already seen lays out clearly exactly where Takahashi feels the problems lie.

Takeda believes throughout that what he is doing is right, he’s just doing what he’s told and what he has learnt that being a police officer entails. So deep is the corruption that the concept of what a police officer is has become distorted beyond comprehension.

This bleak representation of the situation could obviously become unremittingly depressing but Takahashi, and co-screenwriter Yu Terasawa, weave a compelling story that slowly pulls the viewer in before gradually revealing the darkness in the heart of the police force. The film is not without slivers of light and hope though as the corruption is investigated by two reporters who attempt to expose them to the Japanese public and the wider world. The reporters exist in an equally corrupt world though, in which the press rewrite police public relations documents rather than investigating events and are more than willing to not only ignore the corrupt actions of the police but endorse them through inaction.

Takahashi’s directorial approach in Confessions of a Dog is at times a little heavy handed and he occasionally introduces inappropriate stylistic techniques but for the most part the filmmaking is solid and his grasp of storytelling is exceptional. Sharing something in common with the Jitsuroku-eiga Yakuza films of Kinji Fukasaku and also the headline-to-screen approach of filmmakers/television producers such as Samuel Fuller and David Simon, Takahashi is able to tell a complex and intelligent story through engaging and absorbing characters, making political and social problems feel personal. A beautiful piece of storytelling and an essential film.

This review was originally posted at HeyUGuys.