Masayuki Suo’s I Just Didn’t Do It is a courtroom procedural, yet one in which the central trial’s outcome is of far less concern than the mechanisms of the Japanese legal system itself. With exacting precision, scant melodrama, and sparse musical accompaniment, Suo (whose previous film, 1996’s Shall We Dance, couldn’t be more tonally dissimilar) follows a young man named Teppei (Ryô Kase) as he’s given a crash course in institutionalized injustice after being accused of publicly groping a teenage schoolgirl on a crowded train. Teppei immediately claims innocence to the charge, but given the offense’s pervasiveness in Japan and the state’s desire to stamp it out—resulting in 99.9% of all suspects being convicted—it’s a decision with serious consequences, especially when he refuses to accept offers from cops, the prosecutor, and even his government-appointed public defender to plead guilty and pay the “parking ticket”-like fine. His subsequent ordeal is laid out in meticulous detail by Suo, whose compositional arrangements present the protagonist as the focal point of encompassing presumed-guilty inequity, whether it be the court’s replacement of a reasonable judge for a strict one, his female lawyer’s (Asaka Seto) initial presumption that he’s at fault (simply because he’s a man), the submission of Tetsuo’s pornography collection as damning evidence of his culpability, or the unequal treatment he and his accuser receive. This last point is strikingly visualized during a centerpiece sequence in which the victim testifies behind opaque screens, which provide her a measure of government-mandated respect and privacy that Teppei—constrictively framed by Suo during this portion of the hearing—is callously denied. I Just Didn’t Do It doesn’t present Teppei as a martyr or even much of an idealist but, rather, as a man simply unwilling to bow to a legal machine that considers an innocent plea to be a dishonorable act of treason. Depicting all 15 stages of the trial as well as the assistance offered Teppei by his lawyers (led by Kōji Yakusho’s former judge), his mother, and his friends, Suo’s film is riveting in its case minutia, and righteously infuriating in its comprehensive portrait of a system that values public approval ratings and a high conviction rate above the truth.
- 143 min
- Masayuki Suo
- Masayuki Suo
- Ryô Kase, Asaka Seto, Koji Yamamoto, Masako Motai, Kōji Yakusho
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