Confessions of a Dog (2006) by Gen Takahashi

Takeda (Shun Sugata) is promoted from a lowly beat officer to the investigations department. While the money is good, helping to support his pregnant wife (Harumi Inoue), he soon discovers that corruption is rife in the force, with the police taking a cut from Yakuza drug deals. On the orders of his superiors he carries out his duty diligently, the line between right and wrong slowly vanishing from sight. When a new recruit, Roppo, starts at Takeda’s old police job he is shown the ropes by two older patrolmen, who give him an insight into how they operate and the various scams they perpetrate with immunity. After a run in with the police in which he is beaten up for prying in their business, a bar owner, Kusama (Junichi Kawamoto), and his photo journalist friend, Kitamura (Kunihiko Ida), set out to expose the corruption in the police force that goes right to the top.

Gen Takahashi’s film is a cross between a morality play and an investigative documentary. While the characters and plot are fictional, there is a chilling ring of truth to everything. The inspiration for the story came from Takahashi’s friend, journalist Yu Terasawa, who has worked on uncovering police corruption. The low-level officers are shown to be violent and horny, abusing their position to commit assault and even rape. The conspiracy of silence surrounding them allows them to act without fear of reprisal. The detectives are no less reprehensible, although more organized in their lawbreaking, with everything from entrapment, witness intimidation, drug use, frequenting prostitutes, protection rackets and bribery on display. The film is unrelenting in its depiction of the police as a force for evil in society, with not a single redeemable character among them. Shun Sugata’s performance as Takeda perfectly captures the fall of an honest, gentle man into his role as just another cog in the corrupt machinery of the state. His monologue at the end is spine-chilling as he tears apart the thin veil of respectability to show the police for what they truly are. Although the script is heavy in detail, with Takahashi clearly wanting to get across as much as possible about all the various ways the police are corrupt, it does a decent job of weaving it into a cohesive narrative. It never comes across as a lecture on the evils of the police. Takeda’s wife and daughter offer further emotional weight to the drama, being emblematic of the life he is leaving behind when he becomes further involved with the scandals that are unfolding. “Confessions of a Dog” features some standout direction, at times like a police procedural, at others using theatrical techniques with lighting changes and monologues to make a strong point.

Police corruption is a serious issue and one that citizens should rightly be aware of given the trust that is placed in them. The film is all the more shocking for the realistic way in which it portrays police corruption from the lowest to the highest levels. Most crime films exaggerate to the point that they are hard to believe, but nothing that is shown here seems unbelievable. The film comments on the nature of this corruption as something that is inseparable from the police force, with the hierarchical structure and solidarity amongst officers engendering these behaviours. There are echoes of fascism in the idea that officers are ‘only following orders’ from their superiors. It blames a supine press, essentially repeating official statements to a largely oblivious public for the problem; offering a faint hope that people could be better informed and take action to prevent these things happening. An epic police drama that meticulously details corruption in the force, while at the same time telling a heart-breaking personal story about how such organizations can turn even good natured individuals into unquestioning servants of a damaging system.

Rainbow Song (2006) by Naoto Kumazawa

Tomoya Kishida (Hayato Ichihara) is working as a runner for a production company, currently recording a pop music video. He is an awkward young man, constantly talked down to by his superiors and seemingly unable to do anything correctly, although he is likeable and keen to please. He sends a text to an old friend, Aoi Sato (Juri Ueno), who he has not seen in a number of years after she moved to America. Kishida is later upset to learn from a news report that Aoi has died in a plane crash. He attends the funeral with his boss Higuchi, meeting her parents and her sister Kana (Yu Aoi) who is blind. On the drive home, as Holst plays on the car radio, Kishida thinks back to his time with Aoi. The film is told in a chaptered style, beginning at the end and slowly working back around to the beginning. We see Kishida’s initial meeting with Aoi, when he was chasing another girl whom she worked with. Due to his persistence, they eventually form an uneasy friendship. Aoi, a budding director, decides to cast him in her first amateur film “The End of the World”. Their relationship develops slowly and it is clear that they both have feelings for one another, but Kishida lacks the confidence to tell her how he feels.

“Rainbow Song” is an interesting twist on the traditional relationship drama, since we already know from the beginning what happens to Aoi, and that Kishida and Aoi did not end up together. This is to the film’s advantage as it takes the focus off the usual will-they-won’t-they hook and allows for a much more nuanced and poignant examination of their relationship. While it largely steers clear of cliché, the film knows exactly how to pull at the audiences heartstrings, with a piano and string score by Hiroaki Yamashita that swells at all the right moments. The film also uses Holst’s “Venus” and “Jupiter” a lot, pieces that have significance later on as the soundtrack to Aoi’s film. The music is occasionally a little overpowering in moments that could have relied solely on the performances of the two lead actors.

Kishida is a believably nuanced character, shy, sincere, funny, unambitious, honest. Hayato Ichihara is perfectly cast, humorous and charming in his confused interactions with women, either hitting on someone who is already taken, or failing to notice Aoi’s developing feelings towards him. Juri Ueno also shines in her role as we see her transform from annoyance at his behaviour to acceptance and later affection at his quirks. The script offers many fantastic moments with the pair and they have a good chemistry together. Surprisingly, given the tragic events that open the film there are a few very funny scenes. One of the best moments is Kishida’s ill-fated experience at a speed dating event he is taken to by Aoi. Again, the brilliance of the premise is that even in the moments of romance or humour there is always the dark cloud of the inevitable tragedy lingering over everything.

The staging of “Rainbow Song” is noteworthy as it often drives the narrative forward. The positioning of characters in relation to each other and  their surroundings tells the story just as much as the dialogue and acting. The cinematography also provides some beautiful moments, such as when the two leads are standing by a puddle that reflects a rainbow. It is a simple shot, perhaps a little melodramatic, but the subtlety of the rest of the film allows it a pass on moments such as this. The film is perhaps a little drawn out, although the chaptering helps in breaking the story up into smaller, sometimes self-contained, stretches. The film was written by Shunji Iwai (under a pseudonym), along with Ami Sakurai and Miyuki Sato and both dialogue and plot are carefully constructed with a sense of realism to everything that happens.

Early on the theme of fate is established and the film itself plays on this through its plot structure. In knowing what will happen and witnessing the events with that knowledge, the audience is put in the unusual position of seeing things with the benefit of hindsight that the characters do not have. Kishida is criticised by his boss for not being able to alter the weather for the following day’s shoot, to which he replies that that would be impossible. His boss then retorts that he should at least look worried about it. This notion that there a things that will happen that we cannot change, that in fact we can only change our feelings about them is a powerful notion. Tragic events do occur and we can only look at them and decide how we feel about them. In the same way, Kishida cannot relive his time with Aoi, only look back on it with either love or regret. The second major message of the film is that of utilising your limited time wisely and taking advantage of every opportunity. There are several moments where Kishida has the chance to begin a serious relationship with Aoi, but always seems to back out. In contrast, when given the chance to move to America, Aoi takes it. They reflect each other in this regard, one hesitant and one bold enough to take their opportunities. The tragedy is that Kishida is doomed to miss his chance for true happiness, and that Aoi is doomed to take hers. The dualistic and contradictory nature of fate and free will is threaded throughout this story though never stated quite so boldly.

“Rainbow Song” is a subtle, nuanced look at relationships, that builds to a surprisingly devastating finale as we are taken through Kishida’s emotional recollections of the time he spent with Aoi and his series of missed chances. Worth a watch as a unique take on tragi-romantic drama.