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I Just Didn't Do It
I Just Didn't Do It

A confused Teppei Kaneko (Ryo Kase, second from left) is detained
and accused of being a "shikan" (molester/groper)
in Masayuki Suo's thought provoking film I Just Didn't Do It.
  Japanese: それでも ボクは やってない
Year: 2007  
  Director: Masayuki Suo
  Producer: Daisuke Sekiguchi, Yoshino Sasaki, Shintaro Horikawa
  Writer: Masayuki Suo
  Cast: Ryo Kase, Koji Yakusho, Asaka Seto, Masako Motai, Koji Yamamoto, Miyu Yagyu, Ranran Suzuki, Ken Mitsuishi
  The Skinny: Stark and sobering courtroom drama that casts a critical eye on the Japanese judicial system. While Suo's involving and emotional story is at times heavy-handed in its message, the film is an intriguing if not scary look into Japanese society, the politics of the Japanese legal system and the meaning of true justice.

Director Suo Masayuki's latest film is quite a serious change from his lighthearted and comedic films Shall We Dance? and Shiko Funjatta (a.k.a. Sumo Do, Sumo Don't) and comes at a time when Japanese society is struggling with the issues of victims rights - particularly a women's right to sue for sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment and molestations (groping) incidents on the Japanese subway and train systems have always been a problem with many women, especially teens and younger women, who silently tolerate the behavior for fear of societal judgment. While transit authorities have tried to address the issue - encouraging women to report incidents, creating special "female only" subway cars during peak hours - these problems still persist.

While much advancement has been made over the years, outdated attitudes of women as "second class" citizens are still prevalent in certain sectors of Japanese society. Many secretaries (OL, "Office Ladies") are still expected to serve tea and attend to their male co-workers needs; the Japanese media often parades women around as sex objects/victims in various dramas, TV game shows, anime and films; Japanese manga and adult video often show women humiliated, raped, molested and tortured in graphic and explicit detail; Female politicians are often judged by their ooks and not by their political abilities or achievements.

However, an ever increasing number of women in Japan are now stepping forward to challenge some of the behaviors they've been exposed to and many "sexuhara" lawsuits have been filed against companies who have up-to-now turned a blind eye. Suo's drama Soredemo Boku Wa Yatenai takes a look at the problem from a different perspective and at the same time takes a critical look at Japan's Judicial system.

Kaneko Teppei (Kase Ryo) is your average, unsuspecting and nondescript young working man (salary man) who finds himself in a living nightmare one morning as he makes his way to an job interview in Tokyo. Running late, Teppai jumps on a packed subway train. Young junior high school student Furukawa Toshiko (Yagyu Miyu) just happens to be in front of him. Trying to pull his stuck coat jacket from the train doors, he brushes up against the student several times. However this seemingly innocent action soon becomes the basis of a "sexuhara" complaint made against him by the girl.

Stopped by transit authorities, he is detained and forced to spend several nights in a local jail. Police inspectors grill Teppei about the incident in an attempt to force a confession. A Public Defender assigned to him recommends that he confess to the offense as a lengthy trial would only make things worse. Stubbornly, Teppei refuses to admit to the crime. Teppei's mother (Motai Masako) and "freeter"/slacker best
friend Tatsuo (Yamamoto Kohji) try in vain to retain an attorney to take his case but as one candidly admits unlike on TV dramas, most don't have the experience to handle such criminal cases.

They finally find a sympathetic and kindly attorney, Arakawa Masayoshi (the wonderful Yakusho Koji). Arakawa and his young junior legal partner Sudo Riko (Seto Asaka) attempt to make his case within the Japanese legal system. Teppei's mother also finds another ally in vocal legal critic Sada Mitsuru (Mitsuishi Ken) who himself was falsely accused of sexual harassment and is awaiting his own trial verdict.

While Soredemo... may play out like your typical episode of the TV series Law & Order or other movie courtroom dramas like The Accused, To Kill A Mockingbird and A Few Good Men, it is a surprisingly engaging and fascinating courtroom drama that takes a simple "he said/she said" story and makes it into a mesmerizing social drama and commentary that examines issues of justice, truth and morality. Suo's masterfully crafted and brilliant script forces us not to take sides. Both Teppei and Furukawa are victims in their own way (we learn later that Furukawa was victimized before and that she was so traumatized by this second experience that she has stopped riding the train again for fear of another assault).

Kudos should go to Suo's stellar cast who are all exceptional in their parts. Kase Ryo (Letters From Iwo Jima, Strawberry Shortcakes) makes for a convincing everyman as Teppei. Yamamoto Kohji (Fuji TV drama Hitotsu Yane No Shita"=) is also quite good as supportive friend Tetsuo. Motai Masako (Always San-Chôme No Yûhi) makes a sympathetic mother who we can only feel great sympathy and sorrow for. Yakusho Koji (Shall We Dance?, Babel) turns in another great performance as Teppei's stoic and compassionate attorney Arakawa.

While some may see Seto Asaka's (Death Note, Chakushin Ari 2) young idealistic attorney Sudo Riko as a bit too beautiful to be a junior attorney, I found the character a good example of the modern Japanese career woman (young, smart and earnest) who is every bit an equal to her male colleagues and doesn't fit the stereotype of the meek Japanese woman. Young teen model Yagyu Miyu's performance as victimized student Furukawa is also quite effective, particularly during her courtroom testimony. Mitsuishi Ken's (Pacchigi!, Audition) legal advocate Sada character is the most interesting and I kind of wanted to find out more about his particular case but I guess his story would be enough to make for another movie.

As one could judge from the title, the film does not have the typical happy ending but Suo's story is less about the outcome and more about examining the process in which crimes are prosecuted in Japan. As Teppei remarks at the end, the system is less about finding evidence to exonerate and prove a defendant's innocence but more about finding the evidence to support the criminal charges made by the court and police. The movie states that the Japanese prosecution rate is 99.9% but as Yakusho's character adds, that's only because that number reflects cases where the defendant willingly confesses to the crime and/or voluntarily waives his right to dispute the charges. For those who go to court only 3% are successful in fighting a conviction.

While the story highlights the flaws of the Japanese Legal system, I think Suo's primary message is one of standing by one's own moral convictions and principles and not backing down from those ideals even when faced with imprisonment. Many good people have gone to prison based on their own morals and beliefs (the current situation in Tibet) or based on false criminal charges (the situation with Guantanamo), and this movie forces us to look at what is true justice in this imperfect world. (JMaruyama 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Kam and Ronson
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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Image from Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen