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Friday, Feb. 2, 2007

'I Just Didn't Do It' questions court system


Staff writer

For film director Masayuki Suo, new projects are born from strong feelings, no matter how long it takes to see the movie made.

Actor Ryo Kase and director Masayuki Suo
Ryo Kase (left), who stars in "Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai" ("I Just Didn't Do It") and Masayuki Suo, the film's director, face reporters Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo. SETSUKO KAMIYA PHOTO

For his latest film, "Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai" ("I Just Didn't Do It"), his first in 11 years, Suo says it was his sense of justice that served as the driving force. The film is about a man accused of being a "chikan," or groper, a common problem on crowded commuter trains.

The courtroom drama follows his popular 1996 comedy "Shall We Dance?" That movie was screened in 29 countries, including the United States, and even spawned a Hollywood remake.

"Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai," in cinemas since Jan. 20, is the story of a young man arrested for groping a schoolgirl on a crowded commuter train. Though he protests his innocence, the authorities try to force him to sign a confession that would ensure his release once he pays compensation to the victim.

The hero's resolute refusal eventually leads to his tough fight in the criminal court system, with its astonishing 99 percent conviction rate.

Carefully depicting criminal case procedure, Suo reveals how in Japan one is generally presumed guilty till proven innocent.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Thursday, Suo explained how a newspaper article he read four years ago led to his latest movie. The article reported the district court conviction of a man falsely accused of groping a woman on a train, and how that conviction was overturned later by a high court, exonerating the man.

Suo said he was fascinated by how the man, his wife and friends had worked so hard to prove his innocence. Initially without any intention of making a movie, Suo simply was drawn to the story, wanting to hear how these people, who had no experience with court proceedings, fought the case all the way.

Though their experience was very touching, Suo said he was more shocked to learn that the criminal court system throws the burden of proof on the accused who proclaim their innocence.

"As a Japanese citizen, I was very angry to find that such injustice exists in this society. But even though I lived in Japan, I didn't know this, and I think many others don't know about it, either," Suo said. "And having recognized this, I couldn't just go on with life as if I didn't know anything about it."

Four years of intensive research led to a deep understanding of many issues surrounding the court system, he said, adding he will be making more movies on the subject.

Regarding the start of the lay judge system in 2009, in which the public will take part in proceedings with professional judges in criminal court cases, Suo said it was a chance for the Japanese court system to open up and change.

Suo said he usually considers Japanese to be his primary audience and that the overseas success of "Shall We Dance?" was a fluke. With his latest movie, however, he's enthusiastic about showing it in many countries he possibly can.

"Although details of the systems are different, every country has a court system. And I would like to know how people think about this act of judging people, and how they see the Japanese system," he said.

See related stories:
Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai
Portrait of a dodgy legal system



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