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Original Title:
Reikusaido mada kesu

Japan 2004

Thriller, Crime, Drama

Shinji Aoyama

Koji Yakusho
Hiroko Yakushimaru
Akira Emoto
Etsushi Toyokawa
Yuko Mano
Shingo Tsurumi
Kaoru Sugita
Fukumi Kuroda
Arisa Makino
Shohei Murata
Makoto Baba

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The Lakeside Murder Case

Story: Three families meet at a lakeside cottage to convince teacher Tsukumi (Etsushi Toyokawa) in an interview that their children deserve it to be accepted by the well-respected private school he works for. However, Sunsuke Namiki (Koji Yakusho) doesn't really fit into the crowd the other parents form as he shows in the interviews that he hasn't read up on the school and also doesn't think much of private schools and the pressure that students have to endure there. For his wife Minako (Hiroko Yakushimaru) it is clear, though, that her daughter Maika (Arisa Makino) has to be accepted by any means necessary. For this she plays wife and husband with Sunsuke even though the two aren't together anymore for a while already. Sunsuke has an affair with the photographer Eriko (Yuko Mano) for some time now and when the woman suddenly turns up at the cottage Sunsuke has to ask himself what her motives are exactly. He fears that she wants to force him to divorce his wife and when he wants to meet her at a hotel in the evening he gets a call from his wife who informs him that she killed Eriko after being browbeat by her. Together with the other families it is decided to cover up the murder as otherwise their children's education would be put in jeopardy. Under the directon of the surgeon Fujima (Akira Emoto) the body and the evidence is put away. However, after some time Sunsuke has more and more reasons to ask himself if there weren't other motives involved in the murder.

Review: "The Lakeside Murder Case" is a movie that strongly utilizes its tense, sometimes dreamy but also realistic atmosphere with attention to details. Most of the time the thriller takes place at a cottage that is completely paneled with wood in- and outside and is located at a fog-covered lake. Therefore, the whole mood reminds us of "Twin Peaks", apart from the lacking wacky humor. This gives the murder case something special as well as the fact that we are a bit irritated at the beginning that there is no question about who the culprit was. Murderer and motive are found without any search for it and so the focus lies on making the body disappear. Only in time it turns out that not everything is the way it seems as first, after all. What makes the dialogue-heavy movie pretty special as well is that in its core there are quite some different questions being handled. The necessity of an elite training and the efforts the parents have to make in order to give their children an education that gives them a good chance not to end up on the sideline in a society that is characterized by pressure to perform come more and more into the center of the movie and make this thriller also a socio-critical drama.

Those who aren't already a bit familiar with Japanese culture and mindset will most likely find it strange what kind of efforts parents are making only to know that their child is in "good hands". In fact Sunsuke is the only one in the movie who believes that children should be allowed to be children and actually have the right to decide themselves what they want to do in their life. He can't see why he should become part of a society in which all are fighting doggedly to become better than their neighbor in order not to be the one lying on the ground as the loser in the end. Sunsuke refuses to become part of this system and this also becomes apparent right when he shares the room with the other parents for the first time. Even his more casual way of dressing makes him stand out from the rest like a foreign body. His wild hair and the fact that he hasn't read any information about the school beforehand as he doesn't believe that this institution is good for his daughter isn't really making him a sympathetic character as he shows too many dark sides at first as well. His grieving for his deceased lover is strangely kept to almost a few seconds, too.

Sunsuke seems to be a notorious cheat, but he loves his stepdaughter over everything else. You can't fight the feeling that he alone may be responsible for the family breaking apart. However, when he hears of the murder he is the only one who proves to have a conscience and wants to notify the police right away. Later on he also is the only one who asks the right moral questions while the other families obviously prefer to shut their eyes in front of unpleasant truths and don't want to fall through the cracks of the picture of a caring Japanese family that does everything for their children but just by that destroys their childhood. The parents don't know it any other way, though, since they were raised the same way. With time the movie centers more and more around this subject and brings some other aspects to the discussion that won't be revealed here in order to spoil as little as possible of the numerous twists. In the end it's just that what makes "The Lakeside Murder Case" so multilayered and profound.

The story of "The Lakeside Murder Case" is exceptionally well written and offers a lot of well done twists and hints that make it possible for the audience to draw its own conclusions. This shouldn't be a surprise as the film is based on a novel by Keigo Higashino. Nonetheless, it has to be pointed out that you don't get all answers on a silver platter. Some questions simply remain unanswered but that hasn't really any negative impact. On the contrary, it points out which questions are really important and which demand of any viewer to find his or her own answer. An open end can be pretty frustrating at times, but in "The Lakeside Murder Case" the ending has to be exactly that way and not any other because otherwise it would have been everything but satisfying. The ending also underlines once more that the thriller is alternating between a ray of hope at the horizon and despair, a mixture that for once works out wonderfully.

Director Shinji Aoyama is famous for his highly acclaimed Cannes-winner "Eureka" and once more proves his expertise. In quiet pictures and with many dialogues he creates a subtle tension that breaks with viewing habits. We don't get to see the murder itself but how the body is disposed in all of its details. The murder case is solved right from the start only to be reexamined. Technically Shinji captures his film fantastically, especially some bird's eye view shots give the movie a subtle dynamic. The director is supported by actor Koji Yakusho ("Shall we Dance", "Cure") who again manages to ooze out his very own charm and can sell a character perfectly which would have looked a bit uneven in the hands of anyone else. The other actors are convincing as well and they have to as the movie is mainly built like a chamber play. "The Lakeside Murder Case" is therefore a very nice thriller that has some minor lengths but stands out with its wonderful atmosphere and good story.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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