Memoirs of a Murderer ★★★★

I’d known about this film for a little while and was really looking forward to seeing it, even though I had it in the back of my head that it was a little older than 2017. It turns out that there was, indeed, a 2012 Korean film called Confessions of Murder, which was the movie I was thinking of. I would definitely still like to watch that.

Anyway, Memoirs of a Murderer is the Japanese remake. Unlike most American versions of Asian films, this is actually very good. It has a – forgive me – killer premise: a statute of limitations on crimes that, if they aren’t solved by a certain date, will mean that the perpetrators cannot be touched by the law. In this case, the unidentified murderer of five people is free to live a life of liberty, even if he or she is subsequently exposed.

This legal-loophole idea for a movie is actually based on fact, specifically, the Hwaseong killings that took place between 1986 and 1991. The perpetrator has still not been pinpointed (at the time of writing, at least). When these killings took place, a statute of limitations on such crimes was in place in South Korea (although revoked in 2015).

In Japan, a statute of limitations applied until 2010 so the premise is/was applicable in the context of the remake, in which, during 1995, five people were strangled to death with rope (on separate occasions) while being video recorded. In each instance, one other person (a friend or relative) is forced to watch.

Scroll forward to 2017. The killer has written his memoirs, which quickly becomes a controversial but huge bestseller. The murderer’s reveal takes place in a blaze of publicity, in the form of a live televised PR stunt. Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara) is the smiling assassin who instantly achieves celebrity status and soon has fans swooning all around him. Naturally, there is disgust from many quarters, not least the witnesses to the murders, including Makimura (Hideaki Ito), a detective who was on the case, and whose superior and mentor was Sonezaki’s final victim.

The other witnesses include Yamagata (Ryo Iwamatsu), a doctor, Tachibana (Koichi Iwaki), a gangland boss and Miharu (Kaho), the wife of Makimura – she was a child when her father was murdered, an act she could hear from the other side of a locked door.

Other characters include reputable news anchor Sendo (Tōru Nakamura), who gets the first live interview with Sonezaki. Sendo is a former war correspondent and would appear to be the perfect person to at least try the serial killer on TV.

We also learn that Makimura has a sister called Rika (Anna Ishibashi) who was engaged to be married to Onodera (Shuhei Nomura) but she doesn’t appear to be around anymore (neither does the fiancé, for that matter).

I will say that Memoirs of a Murderer is pretty outlandish but it is so well put together that I was able to forgive – and even embrace – its more outré moments. Moreover, the performances are really very strong; the actors who portray the five witnesses, for instance, make it easy for the viewer to sympathise with their sometimes contrasting mindsets and motives.

For something that is ultimately a manipulative thriller, Memoirs exudes a fair amount of genuine poignancy. It also shines a light on the way in which large sections of society are fascinated by serial killers. When the man who has murdered five people in a sadistic manner turns out to be a charming, pop-star-like personality, it’s almost inevitable that he’s going to become a magnet for obsessive fans.