Memoirs of a Murderer

Michael Potts | 1/11/2017

A murder mystery with plenty of twists, turns and gruesome moments, Memoirs of a Murderer, directed by Yu Irie, fails to take advantage of the opportunities of its premise in favour of over-elaborate schemes, which harms its own consistency.

In 1995, the ‘Tokyo Strangler’ is responsible for five publicised murders, each time forcing a single relative, partner or close friend of the victim witness the killing. They are never caught, despite the best efforts of investigator Ko Makimura (Hideaki Ito). Twenty-two years later in 2017, a man named Masato Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara), claiming to be the murderer, comes forward and releases a book detailing the crimes which quickly becomes a best-seller. With the statute of limitations barring prosecution for capital crimes committed on any date on or before the very day of the last murder, he is seemingly untouchable and quickly, but controversially, becomes a celebrity. But, as is slowly revealed, nothing is as it seems and there is much going on beneath the surface.


The film is well acted, with the two leads played by Ito and Fujiwara putting in two compelling performances. The two play off each other well, with Ito as Makimura managing to inject a lot of raw but contained emotion, while Fujiwara is able to naturally demonstrate a smug creepiness that serves to make Sonezaki a wonderfully hateable villain. His taunting and self-assuredness is frustrating in the best possible way. The remainder of the cast performs commendably, though Kaho as Miharu Kishi, the daughter of one of the Stranger’s victims, and Toru Nakamura as TV reporter Toshio Sendo stand out.


The film is pervaded, at least early on, with a clear sense of realism. The heavy bass of the main theme combines with an abundant use of shadow and darkened locations to create a palpable sense of threat and dread, and even when the lights come on it is followed by more unpleasantness, usually in the form of Sonezaki. Unfortunately, this dark and probing psychology of the opening half of the film doesn’t endure until the end.


Memoirs of a Murderer as a whole plays out in essentially two parts which really diverge in theme and direction. This causes unfortunate problems as the first segment raises very serious questions about journalistic and editorial ethics, fame gained because of serious wrongdoing, and the limits of legal justice versus vigilantism. Almost none of these are followed through with in the following portion of the film and it is a shame considering how sharply the issues are presented – particularly just what justice requires given the murderer was not legally able to be prosecuted. This is made worse by the second half of the film descending into B-movie territory, with some of the twists becoming downright silly, and the plot suffers clear damage to its own internal consistency. The story doesn’t quite become incoherent, but there are some rather striking logical problems that arise to muddy the waters of what was at first a much leaner, clearer mystery thriller.


Memoirs of a Murderer starts out with an interesting premise and attention-grabbing beginning, only to squander much of its potential by refusing to follow the path it set out for itself. The movie remains exciting enough to keep your attention and is a fun experience overall, but the incomplete thematic inquiries and logical problems of the plot will leave you wondering what could have been.