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Japan’s entry is an offbeat choice

Tetsuya Nakashima's 'Confessions' is revenge thriller

The selection of Tetsuya Nakashima’s revenge drama “Confessions” as Japan’s nominee for a foreign-language Oscar surprised many biz insiders here. Despite its stellar B.O. — $45 million — the pic drew mixed reviews at home, as well as heated comments, pro and con, on blogs and message boards.

Nakashima, who made his commercial breakthrough with the 2006 hit musical drama “Memories of Matsuko,” stands out among Japanese helmers for his unique mix of splashy visuals and downbeat subject matter, with “Confessions” no exception.

The heroine, a junior high teacher played by Takako Matsu, plots revenge against two of her students when she discovers that they killed her toddler daughter. The graphically violent scenes involving children have drawn fire, as have the hyper musicvideo-like stylistics that critics have slated as overdone and inappropriate.

Though the pic also has its fervent defenders, insiders did not expect to find many among the seven-member committee that selects Japan’s Oscar entry under the aegis of the Motion Picture Producers Assn. of Japan.

Headed by critic Yukichi Shinada, the committee consists of film world elders who have typically opted for more mainstream, humanistic fare, including the 2008 nominee and eventual Oscar winner, Yojiro Takita’s “Departures.”

At the same time, “Confessions” also fits the profile of many recent Japanese Oscar entries: It’s being handled by a major distrib (Toho), addresses a timely social theme (Japan’s dysfunctional education system) and was selected for a major overseas fest (Toronto).

That said, not all committee members agreed with the choice. “I don’t think (‘Confessions’) has much of a chance,” says one member who declined to be named. “It’s too dark for Academy members’ tastes.”

“Confessions” producer Genki Kawamura begs to differ, noting that one of the pic’s inspirations, “The Dark Knight,” received multiple Oscar noms despite its less-than-upbeat story. Although most noms were for below-theline awards, Heath Ledger picked up an actor Oscar.

“Japanese films have a reputation abroad of being either ponderous and slow or cultish,” Kawamura says. “(‘Confessions’) is a film that will change that perception. It will be interesting to see the reactions of the Academy members.”

More from Eye on the Oscar: Foreign Language:
Winners circle back to Hollywood | Rookies of the year | Translate into English? | Taiwan’s offbeat choice for Oscar entry | Japan’s entry is an offbeat choice | Finnish ‘Life’ sets sight on Oscar | The contenders list

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