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While much advancement has been made over the years, outdated attitudes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.
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
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)