Four days ago, I saw a movie. I’ve seen it two more times since then. I don’t really watch movies often, and I rarely find myself truly moved by them, but Nakashima Tetsuya‘s Kokuhaku, adapted from Minato Kanae‘s award-winning novel of the same name, was something else entirely.

At its core, Kokuhaku is the story of a junior high school teacher, the death of her child, and the revenge she seeks upon those responsible for it. That is, if you’re really, really trying to condense it. It’s truthfully more like a series of confessions — what the title itself translates to in English as well as the one used outside of Japan — from a number of people tied to the killing. It’s a sometimes lighthearted, frequently unsettling and ultimately extremely thought-provoking work, and its soundtrack complements this effortlessly.

So, because I feel as if I can’t address one without the other (and because I’d be the worst movie critic in the history of the universe), I wrote this with a strong emphasis on the music and the scenes that inspired the most thought and reaction in me.

There are mild spoilers past this point, so be warned.

The film opens with Shibuya Takeshi‘s bouncy “Milk” — admittedly an unsurprising choice for a montage of, um, rowdy children drinking, throwing, and otherwise interacting with the substance. But the baby’s laughter in the beginning and its joyful, childlike execution are perfectly juxtaposed with protagonist Moriguchi Yuko’s stone-faced retelling of her four-year-old daughter’s death in the following scene, a contrast made painfully evident from the moment the song starts.

The soundtrack, it turns out, is practically made of clever little mismatches like this one. One thing I never expected to see as I was watching the movie was massive Japanese girl group AKB48, who, at the time of the film’s release in mid-2010, were on their way to becoming the incredibly powerful hit-makers they are now. And yet, watching the two killers Watanabe Shuuya and Shimomura Naoki nonchalantly selecting their victim while the group’s first #1 single “RIVER” blares on a TV nearby, it fits seamlessly into the scene.

The song is yet another cruel, almost twisted interpretation of something you’d never think to look at another way. Naoki’s breakdown following the incident leaves him constantly shut in his room; when his mother goes upstairs to deliver his school notes to him, she opens the door only to be greeted by utterly tormented screaming and “RIVER” blasting from the stereo, its uplifting lyrics like a kind of sick joke:

Don’t make excuses for yourself!
You won’t know until you try!
No choice but to go straight ahead!

Keep on walking
Forever, forever, forever
Down the road you’ve chosen!

Takes on a completely different meaning when the path in question was the selfish, remorseless murder of a little girl, doesn’t it?

Other songs on the soundtrack are more quietly bittersweet, like Curly Giraffe‘s “Peculiarities,” or sharp-edged and foreboding along the lines of boris‘s “Niji ga Hajimaru Toki.” Many praised the choice of Radiohead‘s “Last Flowers” for the film — I myself found it perfect also. My favorite, though, is a little of all those qualities.

The haunting Yakushimaru Etsuko and Nagai Seiichi collaboration “The Meeting Place” feels exactly like a sweet, dark secret, something kept close to the heart where no one else can ever see it. It’s precisely for this reason that I found it to be a pitch-perfect representation of the relationship beginning to develop between Shuuya and his sympathetic classmate Kitahara Mizuki, two friendless outcasts cautiously looking to each other for an escape, be it Shuuya’s simple desire for a meaningless pastime or Mizuki’s need to be understood by someone like her. Yakushimaru’s vocals almost make me think of what Mizuki’s might have sounded like if she’d ever opened her mouth to whisper out a melody, and the lyrics feel just like what she’d sing: love in vain, the game she could never win in her meeting place with Shuuya.

Simply put, it’s a beautiful soundtrack for a strikingly beautiful film, expertly crafted with songs spanning genres and moods alike. I’ve made many good discoveries from it, and while they’ll always be connected to this story for me, it’s definitely worth listening to on its own even for those who haven’t seen the movie. In a way, it’s reminded me of why I love music and the way it can merge with a story to make something absolutely brilliant.

And if this blog has any use, I think sharing those experiences might be the best possible one.

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