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Friday, Sep. 30, 2011

Documentary exposes justice system's pitfalls


The flaws in the criminal justice system will get global attention when a documentary about two men wrongfully convicted of murder and acquitted more than 40 years later airs at a major film festival in South Korea in October.

"Shoji and Takao," produced by freelance director Yoko Ide, will be exhibited with English subtitles at the 16th Busan International Film Festival. It follows over a 14-year period the struggles of Shoji Sakurai, 64, and Takao Sugiyama, 65, since their release on parole in 1996.

With a compact camera, Ide shot various aspects of their daily lives, including their attempts to establish jobs and families, and how they learned to purchase train tickets from automated dispensers for the first time, after their 29-year incarceration for a 1967 robbery-murder in Ibaraki Prefecture.

She also focused on the efforts of the two and their counsel to reopen the case, which bore fruit when they were finally exonerated in a retrial last May, with a court doubting the credibility of their confessions.

"I myself did not know until I produced this film that the rights of suspects in criminal cases are not guaranteed in Japan, with prosecutors sometimes hesitant to fully disclose the evidence they collected," Ide said. "I expect this film to show such legal issues to an overseas audience at the film festival."

Domestically, the film, which has won several awards in Japan, has been seen by around 10,000 people so far at cinemas and independent showings.

In what became known as the "Fukawa Incident," Sakurai and Sugiyama were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a 62-year-old carpenter, despite the absence of direct evidence such as their fingerprints.

Maiko Tagusari, a Tokyo-based lawyer who helped with the subtitles, said she expects it to be screened worldwide. "It shows defects in Japan's legal system (by depicting the pair's tough battle in the retrial), and how a wrongful accusation affects lives of various people involved," she said. "The Fukawa Incident is not a past issue."

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