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Three couples are staying at a lakeside cottage with their children. They want them to prepare intensely for a prestigious high school's entrance exam with the help of a private tutor. One night, one of the wives confesses to her husband that she has killed his mistress... Written by
Koji Yakusho has a lot in common with Jimmy Stewart. He often plays a bemused everyman to whom the most awful things happen. This movie puts his character in precisely that position. It's not just a mystery, but it's also a satire on the Japanese national obsession with getting kids into the best schools at any price.
Yakusho's character, Sunsuke Namiki stands outside of that obsession, as a self-made successful former dropout, so he doesn't buy into his wife's insistence on getting their daughter into an elite high school as fervently as his wife would like. In many of the scenes at the tutoring retreat in the country, he's isolated from the other parents, who function more cohesively as a group in typical Japanese fashion. But he does try, because he loves his daughter with all his heart.
He has another problem, in the form of his mistress, who visits the kind of trouble on him and the others at the tutoring retreat that gets her killed. How and why are not as they seem, and the ending is worthy of any of Alfred Hitchcock's darkly funny mysteries.
This is not just Koji Yakusho's movie. Every actor, maybe with the exception of Shingo Tsurumi, gives a great performance. Tsurumi's choices seemed two-dimensional and a little over the top, but that may be more a function of the way the character was written: more than a little paranoid. I had not seen Hiroko Yakushimaru before. She was brilliant as Minako Namiki. Akira Emoto turned in another fine performance as yet another kind of weird, creepy guy. He seems to be stuffed with an endless supply of them. Etsushi Toyokawa (as the tutor, Masaru Tsukumi) and Yuko Mano (as Namiki's mistress, Eriko Takashina) give us people with hidden agendas and different facets to their characters, ranging from earnest and sincere to bloodlessly cynical.
The music is minimal, sometimes nothing more than an electric bass playing a simple melody, and exactly what is needed to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Visually, it is stunning for its locations and interiors and the way the shots tell the story, with people moving in and out of the frame. There is a departure from that with a hand-held camera sequence of an argument between the Namikis that puts their fight in the pit of the viewer's stomach.
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