Thursday, January 11, 2007


Had the pleasure of attending the international premiere of I Just Didn't Do It (Soredemo boku wa yattenai), the new film by director Masayuki Suo, he of Shall We Dance? and Sumo Do, Sumo Don't fame. Hosted by New York's Japan Society, it was a gala event, with director Suo and female lead Asaka Seto in attendance, plus a half dozen Japanese media outlets, including video cameras. (Yours truly was interviewed by a stringer crew for Fuji TV, so Japanese readers keep an eye on those news programs.) The movie is about Teppei Kaneko (Ryo Kase, the lovestruck DJ of Funky Forest (ナイスの森)), a young, unemployed -but-looking college graduate who, while on the way to a job interview in Tokyo, is accused of groping a schoolgirl on a crowded train. He is arrested, interrogated, all the while claiming that he's innocent (hence the title). The police and even his initial public defense attorney practically beg him to admit guilt and accept the nominal fine, so that he can immediately go on his way and forget the whole incident. Instead, he refuses to go along with the status quo and gets sucked into the almost Kafka-esque Japanese judicial system. He's held in jail for several months while his provincial mother and best friend plead his case to an attorney (the ubiquitious Koji Yakusho) and are schooled in the vagaries of the courts by another falsely-accused salaryman who has made it his life mission to fight the system. Hearing after hearing takes place and the film proceeds as a pretty dry, procedural court drama. Teppei's fate is pretty much predetermined from the start, and after 143 minutes he's back in the same place he was after the opening arrest - presumed guilty even though he seems to have been proven otherwise. It's all very sobering and depressing, and could probably qualify as an entry level course in Japanese law school.

If this sounds completely unlike Suo's prior, happy-go-lucky comedies, it is. Even the director himself said so during his introduction at Japan Society - he advised viewers who were fans of his earlier movies to try to forget about them while watching
Soredemo. The film is apparently a labor of love from the filmmaker, who has been working on it for many years (his last film was in fact Shall We Dance?, from ten years ago). Despite its all-star cast (Naoto Takenaka also appears, among others), I don't think it holds much commercial potential in Japan, once word gets out about its dry matter-of-factness. Having a bit of background in the legal profession, I enjoyed its versimilitude and appreciated the fact that what others may take as redundancy was Suo's way of showing viewers how easy it is for legal proceedings to suck one's soul quickly into such a pit of despair that pleading guilty to a crime you didn't commit actually seems to be the best option.