Production Company: Gaga Productions, Film City
Release: 21 February 1998
Length: 99 min.
Format: 35 mm; 1:1.85
Director: Mochizuki Rokuro
Executive Producer: Yamaji Hiroshi
Producers: Chiba Yoshinori, Itaya Ken’ichi, Hanzawa Hiroshi
Screenplay: Ishikawa Hitoshi
Based on a comic by: Asada Jiro, Kono Takeshi
Photography: Imaizumi Naoaki
Art Direction: Hatakeyama Kazuhisa
Music: Endo Koji
Editor: Iizuka Masaru
Asakawa Jiro: Matsuoka Shunsuke
J: Tsurumi Shingo
Kumiko: Kanaya Amiko
Moriyasu: Kuronuma Hiromi
Daimon: Yamamoto Ryuji
Kamewada: Hino Shohei
Distrust and disclosure
Japanese cinema of the 1980s was dominated by film adaptations of popular manga comic books. The affinity was natural given how deeply indebted manga is to the movies, but by the eighties, the comics were less feeding off of film than the other way around. In serious decline, Japanese cinema desperately latched onto its now more popular offspring for any ideas and publicity it could get.
Yet if the result of manga’s earliest adoption of film techniques was to produce greater realism, cinema’s reabsorption of manga–especially against the background of the delirious bubble economy days–evoked more often than not a curiously hollow, superficial world.
Mochizuki Rokuro’s Mobsters’ Confessions is also based on a manga, drawn by Kono Takeshi and written by popular novelist Asada Jiro. But Mochizuki, a graduate of the Image Forum experimental film academy, is too aware of cinema to carry on the tone of the 1980s. After garnering some best director prizes for last year’s The Fire Within (“Onibi”) and as well as a retrospective at the 1998 Rotterdam Film Festival, Mochizuki is proving he can produce hard-boiled action and good cinema to boot.
Mobsters’ Confessions reflects upon its comic book origins by making popular culture images a central issue in the story. This is a tale of con artists–people who weave narratives of confidence by borrowing images and facades only so that they can break that trust. Such has been fodder for many entertainment flicks, but Mochizuki is more concerned with what happens when the con artist, unable to believe in anyone but himself, then finds himself all alone.
The hero, Asakawa Jiro (Matsuoka Shunsuke), first appears in disguise, posing as a plant inspector in a scam to fleece a factory owner. His voice-over narration, outlining the tricks he and others play, reveals the game at hand. But just as his observations lay bare what’s behind the masks people don, in Mochizuki’s sly critique of popular imagery, much of the plot revolves around not the perfection of the confidence trick but its unraveling.
Thus right from the start, Jiro is unmasked by Kumiko (Kanaya Amiko), the owner’s stepdaughter, who happens to have seen Jiro before. The fact that he, in turn, knows that she started a mysterious fire to get back at her abusive stepfather makes their unmasking mutual. Far from exposing each other, however, the two form an unholy and often sexual alliance that is the center of the film.
Mobsters’ Confessions proceeds through a dizzying series of cons, betrayals, reprieves and failures as Jiro hooks up with an up-and-coming gang boss named Kamewada (Hino Shohei) to first cheat the factory owner’s creditors and then scam some bankers and real estate agents in a bogus land deal.
Jiro, however, never becomes a yakuza, preferring to remain aloof in the company of Kumiko and an apparently loyal but dim-witted sidekick named J, hilariously played by Tsurumi Shingo. They form a trio, but the question the film poses of their relationship is whether the bonds of love and trust can be created in a world where no one can be believed.
Mochizuki uses black-and-white freeze frames (as if the characters are caught in a photograph), captions, Jiro’s voice-over and other devices to emphasize the conventionalized, even comic book nature of the relationships.
The alternative to these relationships perhaps lies in the confessions and acts of literally laying bare, that are repeated throughout the movie. Hoping for something more in his relation with Kumiko, Jiro is obsessed both with removing her facades–actually stripping her as a prelude to her rebirth–and with forcing her to confess (for example, about whom she has slept with). None of this is very successful, however: Jiro cheats on Kumiko as much as she on him, and even the seemingly innocent J is not what he appears to be.
While a quite enjoyable, entertaining film, Mobsters’ Confessions ultimately makes the hero’s expulsion from both society and its images, often a theme in Mochizuki’s work, the only alternative to suffering their manipulations..
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 26 February 1998, p. 9
Copyright 1998: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow