Directed by Kei Ishikawa
Starring Satoshi Tsumabaki, Hikari Mitsushima, Keisuke Koide
Based on a novel by Tokurô Nukui, Gukoroku: Traces Of Sin, sees journalist Takashi Tanaka (Satoshi Tsumabaki) investigating the gruesome murder of a family as the cold case’s first anniversary approaches. Haunted himself by a recent family tragedy – his unstable younger sister (Hikari Mitsushima) is in jail for child neglect – Tanaka plunges into the history of the victims of the bloody crime. As he delves into the seemingly perfect couple’s life, he uncovers the couple’s desires and ambitions and what they were willing to sacrifice to achieve them.
This is a very slow burn crime thriller (at times it makes Nordic noir look like a Hollywood action film), but certainly one that rewards a patient viewer. The investigation by Tanaka prompts a series of extended flashbacks, as the account of various friends and colleges gives us an insight into the lives of the two victims. As the story unfolds, the web of events grows gradually more complicated, and slowly those interconnected threads form a whole picture that is surprising and terrifying.
That aspect of terror is help by the director Kei Ishikawa’s strong sense of visual style. There is a lingering stillness about his composition, but rarely one that’s at peace. Rather there is a casual tension about Gukoroku, as if the entire piece is caught in that calm moment before the storm.
There is also almost a sense of the supernatural about this, despite the story being grounded entirely in the realistic. Ishikawa showing a quick flash of hands reaching for one character, as if from nowhere, is disquieting. That impact is made even more powerful as the sequence is revisited and the significance of that image becomes hauntingly clear.
Gukoroku’s script also allows a deeper dive into the treatment of in-group (“Insiders”) and out-group, and a commentary on a rigid class structure, specifically in Japan, but applicable to a wider audience. By examining the work and college friends of the murdered couple, their character is slowly revealed and the ambitions the have and the methodology they used to achieve these, are laid bare. The results are at times confronting, speaking to wider behaviour and societal trends.
A deliberate and stylish critique of social elitism, Gukoroku: Traces of Sin, delivers a haunting experience if you have the patience to engage with it.
Gukoroku: Traces of Sin is showing as part of the Japanese Film Festival starting Wednesday November 1 at Hoyts Carousel. Check website for session times and other films screening.