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Dear Doctor
Dear Doctor

Kimiko Yo, Tsurube Shofukutei and Eita in Dear Doctor.
Japanese: ディア・ドクター  
Year: 2009  
Director: Miwa Nishikawa  
  Writer: Miwa Nishikawa (based on her own novel)
  Cast: Tsurube Shofukutei, Eita, Kimoko Yo, Kaoru Yachigusa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yutaka Matsushige, Ryo Iwamatsu, Haruka Igawa, Takashi Sasano, Kanzaburo Nakamura
  The Skinny: On the surface, Dear Doctor seems like just a gentle film about a sinister con. However, writer-director Miwa Nishikawa's latest also features compelling drama, and a cast of complex and intriguing characters.
Kevin Ma:

Unlike your typical award bait movies, Dear Doctor is not a very ambitious film. Dear Doctor takes place in a very remote (i.e. low budget) location, and possesses few attention-getting climatic moments, but somehow it’s beating all the picturesque epics and Western-friendly arthouse films in various Japanese film award competitions. Director Miwa Nishikawa’s follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Sway is by no means groundbreaking filmmaking, but she's crafted a light, seemingly unassuming drama that's perfectly appropriate for its themes, and also possesses complex characters and compelling storytelling.

The “doctor” in the center of all this is Ino (comedian Tsurube Shofukutei), the only physician in a rural village of 1,500 mostly elderly people. Ino disappears at the beginning of the film, and the police immediately discover that he’s been a fraud all along. However, flashbacks reveal him to be nearly a god-like idol in the town, having charmed the populace thanks to his knowledge of medical textbooks and a long streak of good luck. Though people have suspected Ino's true identity, they've ignored or concealed the truth for their own purposes. Nurse Ohtake (Kimiko Yo) needs him as an employer, and finding a doctor (even a fake one) has given the mayor popularity, as help is hard to find given Japan's failing medical system. For Ino's new intern, Soma (Eita), Ino is a source of idealism and inspiration, as Soma's finds his own doctor father to be far too business-minded.

What remains a mystery is what the town means to Ino. He's grown tired of his scam, but he somehow gets by because he's realized that his patients are suffering more from loneliness than actual illnesses. That is, until he encounters the case of Mrs. Torikai, whose stomach illness may be more serious than Ino first diagnosed. Ignored by her grown daughters (one of them a doctor in Tokyo), Torikai strikes up an ambiguous relationship with Ino, who promises to keep quiet about her disease in order to lessen the burden on the family. Caught between wanting Torikai to get the treatment she needs and the risk of giving up his game, Ino is easily one of the most complex and least glamorized hustlers on screen in recent years. Also, Shofukutei plays him as more of a friendly grandfather type than the smooth criminal that one might expect.

Unlike polished heist films where the criminals are depicted as intelligent people indulging in the game, Nishikawa depicts Ino's scheme as something that has simply grown entirely beyond his control. Even when Ino admits his crime outright to another character, the people subconsciously ignore the truth, and continue to elevate him to be something he's not. Nishikawa's brilliant twist is that Ino may be among his own victims; his dishonesty has made victims of his patients, but it's done something to him as well. This is Shofukutei's first leading role after a long career of supporting roles, and as seemingly strange as it is to see him play the good "doctor", his unassuming comedian persona in Japan actually makes him the perfect choice to play someone as two-faced as Ino.

Nishikawa is more of a storyteller than a director, which makes her actors that much more important. Besides Shofukutei's award-caliber performance, Kimiko Yo is strong as Ino's protective nurse, proving that the acclaim for her work in Departures was no fluke. Teruyuki Kagawa is hilarious as a pharmaceutical salesman, and Eita is also excellent as the young doctor whose ideals come crashing down. However, the actors don't get many scenes to earn awards because of Nishikawa's direction, which opts for fairly flat storytelling, even during a climatic surgery scene. She picks a tone somewhere between an eccentric commercial comedy (Those sick elderly are so funny!) and a slow-burn drama with serious underlying tension - but she tones down the energy of both styles. In the hands of a lesser director, Dear Doctor could have been a melodramatic disaster, but Nishikawa fortunately eschews ham-fisted emoting and sticks to an unflinching depiction of her characters.

For a film about a man who cons hundreds of sick senior citizens with false medical expertise, it's surprising that the closest things to villains are the detectives trying to figure out the whole mess. Like the audience might initially do, the two detectives keep trying to paint Ino as a despicable villain towards his victims, but Nishikawa's script and her characters spend the rest of the film convincing us that he isn't one. Ino may be the man with the plan, but his victims and Nishikawa are the ultimate con artists in the game, and we're glad to buy into the con. (Kevin Ma, 2010)


DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Bandai Visual
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
English Subtitles

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