If you are in the mood for a really good detective yarn, you will find it in “The Third Murder,” a thoroughly engrossing Japanese film written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, who previously gave us the excellent films “After the Storm” and “Like Father, Like Son.”

The story is a search for the truth by dogged defense attorney Shigemori, played with steely determination by Masaharu Fukuyama, with respect to a client who has already confessed. Misumi. portrayed enigmatically by Kôji Yakusho, served a prison sentence for another murder 30 yaers before. At the outset of the film we see a killer burning the body of a victim, and Misumi says that he is that murderer.

This time Misumi will face execution if he is convicted, as the murder is said to be in connection with a robbery. His lawyer wants to save his life, and as the film proceeds, the lawyer investigates other possibilities. For example, could the victim’s wife be responsible in order to collect insurance? Could Misumi have a hidden motive for committing the murder?

The director skillfully deepens the mystery as members of the victim’s family are introduced, and the detective pursues them to find out about their lives in order to shed light on the the case and potential explanations. We get hooked into the story, as well as being fascinated by a confrontation in prison between Shigemori and his difficult client, who doesn’t want to take advice that if followed might help spare his life. Hovering beneath the surface is the moral question of capital punishment itself.

Evenutually, of course, we learn the truth, as well as what the title of “The Third Murder” means. To tell you more about the film would be a spoiler. This is a detective tale for those who enjoy a legal thriller laden with plenty of atmosphere, excellent performances, different motive possibilities and the engrossing process of getting to the bottom of things and trying to save a life. A Film Movement release. Reviewed July 20, 2018.

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