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Masayuki Suo's I Just Didn't Do It gives the audience a moving performance by Ryo Kase as well as a thought-provoking look into Japan's legal system.
Ryo Kase (Teppei Kaneko) – Main character/accused of groping high school student on train
Asaka Seto (Rika Sudo) – female lawyer defending Teppei
Koji Yamamoto (Tetsuo Saito) – Supporter/close Friend of Teppei
Mosako Motai (Toyoko Kaneko) – Mother of Teppei/Supporter
Koji Yakusho (Masayoshi Arakawa) – Male lawyer defending Teppei
It has been more than a decade since Japanese director Masayuki Suo's last film Shall We Dance?. In 2006, Suo took a different turn and decided to tackle an issue plaguing Japan year after year: gropers on public transportation. But before you think this is going to be about a female victim standing up to her male perpetrator, think agan. Suo's latest cinematic effort Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai (I Just Didn't Do It) addresses the perspective of the innocently accused. The film tries to show its audience what goes behind the Japanese court system and how one is assumed guilty until proven innocent.
The film follows a young man named Teppei Kaneko as he is wrongly accused of groping a high school girl on the train. Like in most actual cases, Teppei is advised by not only his lawyer, but the police and prosecutors as well, to admit to the crime because he doesn't stand a chance winning his case -- as pointed out by the 99% conviction rate. However, Teppei goes against the advice because well, he honestly "just didn't do it." Why not? In turn, Teppei's decision to prove his innocence shows that it is going to be one long hellish journey for him.
Suo's inspiration for this film came from a story he heard in the news about a young man who was wrongfully accused of being a train groper. After five years, he was acquitted from the crime in the Japanese high courts. Soredemo doesn't just settle with telling a story of one victim; it's trying to illicit some sort of lasting emotion from the audience and to develop a growing awareness to look more carefully at what really goes on in civil court cases. An independent study done by J. Mark Ramseyer and Eric B. Rasmusen claims that the conviction rate is high due to the lack of prosecutors that are taking on all of these cases. Tougher sentences have just recently been brought on to train-gropers.
For a film of that's based on a very controversial topic, you might expect a lot of overacting and quick transitions from scene to scene, but what happens is quite the opposite. Soredemo takes a more subtle approach –- a slow, painful death that actually works really well for the film. The audience becomes more engaged with the story. Watching the film felt like you were right alongside Teppei: you get so caught up that you lose a sense of time. At the end, when you realize the amount of time that has passed for this one court case, you cannot help but feel angry along with him. The pace forces the audience to pay close attention to what is being presented on the screen.
One of the most memorable parts of the film is when Teppei and his supporters reenact the scenarios based on his memory and the accuser's statement. The scene is one of the film's comedic moments, but at the same time it's also the very point of the film that you see how well the cast works together. The film's array of characters are also pretty dynamic. They range from intimidating to quirky to downright pathetic, but it paints a vivid portrait of a community coming together to support a cause.
The standout performance is Ryo Kase (Honey and Clover, Letters from Iwo Jima) in his first starring role. He transforms Teppei from being a timid, unemployed young man to a person with the determination to prove his innocence. He skillfully develops his character in a manner that parallels so well with the pacing of the storyline. Teppei's characterization is the center of this film, and Kase does a great job in moving the audience with his performance. Kase has already picked up a number of awards and nominations for his efforts. Koji Yakusho (Babel) from Suo's last film, Shall We Dance?, also delivers a fine performance as one of the lawyers defending Teppei.
In a country where there are constant images of sex-starved males ranging from all ages, this is a refreshing change of pace. Acts of "chikan" (groping) is not just a crime in Japan; it's become a recurring image in Japanese popular culture as well. Japanese adult videos (AVs) often feature a teenage female high school student. There is even a gathering group for gropers alike in Tokyo, The Groper's Brotherhood, where men of various occupations (teachers, office workers, Buddhist priests) come together to discuss how to avoid trains under high surveillance, to exchange tips and to run workshops on the art of groping. In this case, it's not a mystery why 4,000 men are accused annually of being train-gropers.
There have been measures taken to fix this problem. A couple of years ago, some passenger cars in trains were designated for women only, so females were able to ride the train without any stress of worrying about being groped on a train by another man. However, this created some controversy, as young boys were not allowed on the same train as their mothers. Men have also protested this solution as it painted all Japanese men as train-gropers.
In the end, Soredemo goes against the preconceived notions that Japanese men are distrustful, engaging the audience in a more moving story that makes them think. Suo is asking the audience to take a thoughtful look at the core issues of the film, and he plans on making more films relating to this issue in the future.
Date Posted: 3/21/2008