iSugio

I Just Didn’t Do It – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Kaneko Teppei catches the commuter train one day on his way to a job interview. With the train being over capacity, he is unwillingly forced into a crowded spot. As he gets off the crowded train, a high school girl runs up to him and accuses him of sexual harassment, in which the police apprehend him. At the police station, the police and his court-appointed attorney advise him to simply confess, in which then he would be released after settling compensation with the victim. Teppei rejects this offer stating he is entirely innocent of the crime he’s accused of, therein beginning a battle within the court system to prove his innocence.

Like perhaps any governmental structure throughout the world, the legal system within Japan has its fair share of inadequacies and failings. With Japan’s harsh stance on crime in which one is initially guilty and then must prove their innocence through the use of evidence, the nature of justice is certainly susceptible to controversy, and in many cases has been. In regards to act of Chikan (groping)—in which an individual is touched in a sexual manner, usually in a public environment—the previous leniency on part of the Japanese legal system in prosecuting such acts has led to recent efforts to address and harshly criticize such behavior within the confinement of the courts. This considerable focus has resulted in many innocent individuals being falsely accused, and with a rather expansive legal bureaucracy at the forefront, the adherence towards guilty verdicts is viewed as a safer route for many judges and prosecuting attorneys—especially if they are accustomed to the career-climbing environment that the legal system entails.

It’s this astute examination of the Japanese legal system where I Just Didn’t Do It works exceptionally well as a social commentary on both the execution of justice and the dilemma of groping. Utilized as a catalyst towards examining the legal system itself, the issue of groping is viewed within the film as a diverse and complex subject when viewed individually, but almost viewed entirely from an objective stance by the courts. It’s this juxtaposition that showcases the prominent issues of corruption within the legal system, in which justice and truth are amply put aside for an easy guilty verdict concerning the one accused. With Japan’s outstanding 99.9% conviction rate, this should come at no surprise, but the film dedicates much time towards questioning the intricacies of such a rate and exploring the debauchery that exists behind it. The film doesn’t simply acknowledge these flaws as they exist, but raises questions over the nature of their foundation, as well as not conceding that these are simple procedures within the legal sense.

Not only within the realm of the courts, the film also explores the corruption that exists within the various systems that correlate with court as well. We see an extensive view into the police, in which we see the rather nonchalant attitude towards the arrestment of such accused individuals, as well as indicating the necessity for admittance by the individual to conducting such a crime. This ranges from the use of bribery, unethical obtainment of evidence, and even the usage of coerced witnesses. This material is then utilized to have the defendant remain guilty amidst the eyes of the court, which in turn garners their conviction as true regardless of the testimony on part of the defendant. One can see the presupposed notion of guilt being implicated before the individual even arrives at court, indicating their attempt to unfairly manipulate the outcome beforehand in order to have the one accused remain guilty.

But while we gather from the film that corruption within the Japanese legal system is prevalent, the subjectivity of it all is certainly established. Is this really how the legal system operates in its entirety? While one must certainly acclaim that the legal system is not infallible—as evident throughout the world—the showing of detrimental behavior on part of the individuals who partake in it is highlighted as a main component of the film. More importantly, the bureaucratic treatment that the film conveys is essential here, mainly because it showcases how it distracts from warranting true justice within the court in pursuit of personal promotion. In realizing a social problem such as groping, the film deconstructs how the system apparently dilutes the actual crime itself, only focusing on getting the accused individual to admit a wrong—even if they are totally innocent. Similar to this treatment of the topic, the film seems adamant on showcasing the court proceedings rather than the actual act itself, establishing precedence towards examining the entire legality of it all.

With this in mind, the film is very meticulous in nature, which remains an important asset in showcasing the complexity of the issue at hand. A significant portion of the film is dedicated to the actual court proceedings, so those expecting to see a rather fast-paced thriller might be disappointed. What the film does well is establish tension through its dialogue as well as the uncertainty of Teppei’s ruling, which makes for some very confrontational courtroom segments. With such an intricate plot unfolding, the film does unfortunately waver in delivering much character development let alone exploring their background. While we may not learn much about Teppei’s personal life, we do see the trials and tribulations he must undertake in order to overcome his accusation. The film seems attracted more towards examining the issues of the legal system rather than its characters, which is not to say the film is any less interesting because it chooses to does so. The miniscule attention of the characters is only but a minor detail in regards to tackling the enormous subject of the Japanese legal system, which in itself makes up a prominent portion of the film. Perhaps it’s best to say that Teppei is representative of any person facing such harsh accusations in which they know they are innocent of the crime, but still have to undergo the seemingly discriminatory formalities to prove so.

Director Masayuki Suo had reportedly spent four years researching the subject of the Japanese legal system and their handling of groping in preparation for the film, and it most certainly shows here. I Just Didn’t Do It is an intricately crafted film that showcases the obstructive nature of the legal system and its numerous fallacies, all within the experience of one man’s struggle to prove his innocence. The questionable legal structure remains at the center of the film, with Suo never willing to forfeit attention on the matter for sake of frivolous plot dynamics. With such a debatable subject at hand, Suo has delivered a crucial examination in how the Japanese legal system addresses not only the social dilemma of groping, but also explores an ethical issue concerning the handling of truth and justice. With Japan’s attempt towards ending such a dilemma as groping, they have produced a rather complicated system of laws that are highly susceptible to corruption, and according to the film, have unfortunately succumbed to on numerous occasions. I Just Didn’t Do It is Suo’s effective attempt towards bringing awareness to such a contemporary issue, in turn offering a powerful commentary on the Japanese legal structure and its various ambiguities.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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Comments

  • http://japanflix.com Jin

    Great article. I also agree that the movie did a great job depicting one aspect of Japan’s legal system through Kaneko’s story. Particularly Kaneko’s conflict between his hopeful belief that the court would never rule an innocent person guilty and just fearing the worst. To kind of defend the justice system here though (because the movie is inevitably one-sided) I personally never feared the Japanese justice system living in Japan, due to the other important aspect or “check/balances” of Japan’s justice system: that the Japanese prosecutors indicts few suspects out of fear of losing the case in court. Japanese justice system only tries people the prosecutors are reasonably confident are guilty. Of course, that is not how a justice system should work and is not ideal, especially if the prosecutors do make a mistake and send you to court.

  • Miguel Douglas

    Thanks for the comments and insight Jin. As we would expect, it’s very difficult to prove that someone didn’t touch someone in an inappropriate matter, but its very easy to prove that they did. I loved how the film worked around this concept and brought in considerable moment of doubt to the audience concerning Kaneko’s real actions. The conflict that you raise concerning Kaneko’s hope/fear concerning the justice system is very insightful!

  • HajimeNoJMo

    I wouldn’t say that Japan’s court system is corrupt, it just works differently from America. As demonstrated in the movie, those accused of a crime have to sign a written confession and most convictions in Japan are based on these confessions. It is true that the police can’t force you to confess, but they have other ways of doing so from what I’ve heard. You do have a right to an attorney, but lawyers in Japan really don’t have that much power unless they really know what they’re doing in the confinements of their legal conditions.

  • Warren Lauzon

    It is a deep dark secret that much of the Japanese legal workings are as much a matter of “face” as they are legalities and rights. It also goes a long ways towards explaining why the conviction rate is so high, at least on paper. One aspect that the movie did not touch on is related – the (on paper) much higher suicide rate in Japan compared to most other countries. There have been a few articles written about the fact that quite often if the Japanese police cannot solve what could be a homicide, they list it as a suicide simply to close the case.
    On a side note, there is a current (as of Aug 2013) Japanese serial TV drama (called “Woman”) running that includes a subplot about a gang of “molester accusers”, who accuse people of molesting in order to extort money.

  • http://www.isugoi.com/ Miguel Douglas

    I’ve been meaning to watch “Woman”, heard good things about it!