Kanae Minato: Confessions

Comparisons between an adaptation of a written work and the original are always interesting, even if the piece of film or TV is inferior to the story that it’s based on. In rare instances the adaptation proves to be even more enjoyable than the book that inspired it (the only one that springs immediately to mind however is Satoshi Kon’s mind-bending animated film of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s novel Paprika) but it can still encourage you to view the source material in a slightly new light. It feels a bit awkward to me when I experience the adaptation first though, because there’s that nagging feeling that my appreciation of the original is being clouded somehow.

For instance: I picked up (and reviewed, if you’re interested) Tetsuya Nakashima’s schoolroom psycho-thriller Confessions long before the English translation of Kanae Minato’s novel. If you have seen the film and are familiar with the story right up to its shocking denouement, I still recommend the book: inevitably, there are certain plot points that were edited out to fit the flow of the movie, but the shift in emphasis means that the novel is still a refreshing and rewarding experience. You certainly won’t get *quite* the same feeling as you would from the film even if, say, you read it with a Boris album playing in the background or something.

The film really is bloody brilliant, from the soundtrack to the cinematography and the performances from its largely young cast. Nakashima and his writers deserve credit for a polished and striking piece of cinema, but the screenplay owes a lot to the quality of Minato’s storytelling as well. Certain details were left on the cutting room floor and the film is no worse for that, but these parts that never made the journey from print to screen still deserve attention.

I think of a translator’s job as being that of co-author, because his or her interpretation will colour the experience of the translated work. I lack the comprehension skills to read the original text so cannot tell if this was evident in Minato’s writing, but I can say that Stephen Snyder’s prose is clear, flows well and effectively conveys the simplistic reasoning of the younger characters and the chilling directness of their homeroom teacher-turned-vigilante.

Each chapter is told in first-person, which makes for a more intimate and revealing experience of the characters’ thoughts and motives. A third-person narrative would of course have been more ‘objective’ but getting a grasp of their respective points of view separately and piecing it all together is all part of the fun, and makes it feel more ‘personal’ than the film.

The movie focuses on the aftermath of the death of Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter Manami, mainly concerning itself with the resulting campaign of revenge and its effect on the two students who the distraught mother believes are responsible. This works wonderfully as a murder-mystery thriller, but the novel’s approach of presenting each principle character’s story separately takes a broader view and gives the reader a clearer idea of how this chain of events affected many other people. Even the title feels more appropriate because, rather than being two possible killers and one other person hell-bent on revenge, seemingly everyone who is touched by these events has something that they feel they have to ‘confess’ to.

One idea that spoke very clearly to me was the nature of good and evil in the context of human morality. Some fictional villains just ‘are’: they’re bad people and little or no explanation is given beyond that. In this case, even murderers are given background and you find yourself swerving from disgust to sympathy as you gradually discover why they did what they did. It backs up the notion that in society there aren’t necessarily bad people per se; rather, there are people who make tragically bad decisions.

This train of thought is what heightens the realism of Confessions despite occasional moments that require suspension of disbelief, and in some ways is what makes it all the more frightening. The thing is, these people who kill and harm others are not inherently bad, so it’s theoretically possible that it could happen to anyone. A combination of personal failings – the selfishness, pride, wilful ignorance or cowardice that we all experience at some time or another in our lives with relatively minor consequences – simple misunderstandings and unfortunate coincidences is what has such serious repercussions, and punishes the innocent and guilty alike.

It becomes clear that Moriguchi is being driven on a potentially damaging moral crusade due to her grief: the intricacies and manipulations involved in her plans are obsessive, and of course it’s morally questionable as to whether she has the right to take the law into her own hands in the first place. Neither of the two ‘killers’ is wholly responsible for the innocent child’s death, but at the same time they themselves are victims of circumstance before they make those fateful decisions. Perhaps the most damning indictment of their, and Moriguchi’s, guilt is the fact that for all the loss and punishment the three of them go through, many innocent lives are also ruined or ended in the process.

There are fascinating bits of social commentary that make for great book club or pub discussions, such as the issues surrounding the age of criminal responsibility among the young, the role of the justice system in terms of choosing between punishment and rehabilitation and the influence of family life on incidence of crime. They are quite universal I think, and easily overcome cultural barriers even when the culturally-specific situations may not.

I understand that Confessions was a runaway success at home and The Snow White Murder Case, another of Minato’s novels, has also been given the cinematic treatment and even a limited theatrical run abroad, so I look forward to seeing that. I certainly hope that this finds an appreciative audience in the English-speaking world because a gripping and meticulously-crafted piece of this calibre certainly deserves it.