Both fiction and documentary writers are often taught to show instead of tell. Kei Ishikawa does a little of both in Gukou Roku (Traces of Sin) with more emphasis on telling. In this complex, talky murder mystery, various people give their take on how the “perfect family” might have come to be assassinated. For once, the telling method is a brilliant way to show a bloody massacre without a drop of blood or a glint of a knife. All violence is either described verbally or muted visually. It forces the viewer to think. To imagine. To create the scene from a character’s words rather than to rely on gratuitous onscreen carnage.
The unsolved case is the central theme linking every character, but on a deeper level, Gukou Roku isn’t about murder. It explores the psychological damage caused by the friction between Outsiders and Insiders. It tackles abuse of power between the sexes. At a moment in our sociological history where women are hashtagging #metoo about sexual and emotional harassment by men, the film is on point. Men are characterized as manipulative, disgusting pigs. Female viewers will likely nod with unfortunate firsthand knowledge of the portrayed behaviors. However, not all women are so innocent. Some play the ‘man’s game’, and some enable the abuse for their own selfish reasons. Thus, not everyone is who they seem. That minor figure in the background, or that one guy whose personality is never described? Suspect them. Everyone should be considered suspicious until proven otherwise.
This is not simple plot development. There are many characters and lots of information to digest. It will either give the viewer’s brain a workout, or leave them completely confused. This is intellectually more challenging than many films in the suspense-drama genre. And folks, the creep-out factor is not only due to abusive men. It’s also thanks to a few well-placed visual delicacies using extremely simple techniques and smart lighting, by cinematographer Kenjiro So and Lighting Director Piotr Niemyjski.
**Trigger warning for accounts of sexual abuse and child neglect**
Gukou Roku screens at TIFF (Tokyo International Film Festival) – TOHO Cinemas, Roppongi Hills, 3:20 pm, October 27th, 2017.