Thoughts on Suo Masayuki’s movie “I just didn’t do it”: A must-see.


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Hi Blog.  Sunday’s tangent:  Suo Masayuki’s movie “Sore de mo, boku wa yatte nai” (I just didn’t do it), some quick thoughts:

Saw the movie on TV last week, I think it’s a must buy (I’m angling for the special edition, with 200 or so minutes of extras).  I agree with the January 2008 Japan Times review by Mark Schilling:  “…the Japanese are a law-abiding people for a very good reason — once the system here has you in its grips you are well and truly in the meat grinder. True, safeguards exist for the accused, who are entitled to a defense lawyer, but the legal scales are tipped in favor of the police and prosecution, who want to save face by convicting as many “criminals” as possible — and nearly always succeed.”

You can see more on about the nastiness of criminal procedure here.  

Soreboku is an excellent illustration of how court procedure in Japan grinds one down (remember, Asahara Shoko, correctly judged guilty, was on trial for more than a decade (1995-2006); it drove him nuts, and calls into the question the Constitutional right to a speedy trial in Japan (Article 37)).  I fortunately have not been involved in a criminal court case (I have done Civil Court, with the Otaru Onsens Case (1999-2005) and the 2-Channel Case (2005-present day), and can attest that it’s a long procedure), but am not in any hurry to.  Soreboku — long, drawn-out, well researched, and necessarily tedious — is one vicarious way to experience it.

What came to mind mid-movie was Michael Moore’s SICKO.  One very salient point he made was how rotten the health insurance system is in the US:  If you get sick in the US, given how much things cost and how insurance companies enforce a “culture of no” for claimants, you could lose everything.

Japan’s got health insurance covered.  But the “SICKO Syndrome” here in Japan is the threat of arrest, given the enormous discretion allowed Japan’s police forces.  You will disappear for days if not weeks, be ground down by police interrogations, face months if not years in trial if you maintain innocence, have enormous bills from court and lawyers’ fees (and if you lose your job for being arrested, as often happens, you have no income), and may be one of the 0.1 percent of people who emerge unscathed; well, adjudged innocent, anyway.

The “SICKO Syndrome” is particularly likely to happen to NJ, too.  Random searches on the street without probable cause are permitted by law only for NJ.  If you’re arrested, you will be incarcerated for the duration of your trial, no matter how many years it takes, even if you are adjudged innocent (the Prosecution generally appeals), because NJ are not allowed bail (only a minority of Japanese get it as well, but the number is not zero; NJ are particularly seen as a flight risk, and there are visa overstay issues).  And NJ have been convicted without material evidence (see Idubor Case).  Given the official association with NJ and crime, NJ are more likely to be targeted, apprehended, and incarcerated than a Japanese.

Sources:  Research I’m doing for my PhD thesis; subsection I’ve written on this is still pretty rough.  But in the meantime, see David T. Johnson, THE JAPANESE WAY OF JUSTICE.

See Suo’s Soreboku.  It’s excellent.  And like Michael Moore’s SICKO, a good expose of a long-standing social injustice perpetuated on a people that think that it couldn’t happen to them.  Be forewarned.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

7 comments on “Thoughts on Suo Masayuki’s movie “I just didn’t do it”: A must-see.

  • I wonder: Our (the U.S.) 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty is based off Japan being being a law-abiding, constitutional state–and not the outlaw nation of 1910-1945. When Japan does not follow its own Constitution, should the free world re-evaluate its post 1951 commitments to Japan?

  • “Asahara Shoko, correctly judged guilty, was on trial for more than a decade (1995-2006); it drove him nuts”

    I’m pretty sure he was nuts long before then…

  • I watched this movie some time ago, and it was really depressing.I also read some comments on Japanese boards about it, and also comments on the Japanese myspace, but they all discussed on the particular chikan case, depicted in the movie,and how some women pretend to be groped, blah-blah, while almost all of them failed to see the overall picture of a severely crooked system.Just as someone mentioned above, maybe this lies with the Japanese way of thinking-if I’m safe and live in a safe society, I don’t care about the price of this safety, especially if it is not in my backyard.Why care, it wouldn’t happen to me, right?…

  • Looks like the Japanese criminal courts shift the burden of proof to the accused, and assume the state is always right. Sounds like how the US tax system treats its taxpayers when they are audited and sent to US Tax Court.

    Interesting comparison with Sicko and the health care issues of today. Somebody should make a movie about the rotten Japanese health care system and its flaws too. So many people fall through the cracks of the supposedly “universal” health care in Japan. Miss premium payments to the state system, and the authorities take away your hokensho. Advanced treatments that are easily accessed in America or Europe are denied under the Japanese system, so people must pay out of their own pockets for expensive treatments.

    — Itami Juuzo gave it a shot. With his most underrated movie DAIBYOUNIN

  • Not trying to be a rabble rouser or what you guys call a “troll” but with all of this in mind, one must wonder why Non Japanese choose to stay in Japan. (Am I the only one thinking this way?)

    We foreigners are perceived to be most likely to commit crimes, a fallacy which is perpetuated by the government and National Police in Japan and is bought hook, line, and sinker by the Japanese public (including Japanese who have studied and lived overseas). A fallacy which has been disproven over the past 3 years (consistently) by statistics.

    It is also good to see that David brought up the health care system in Japan as many of my Japanese friends tell me how superior the system is relative to that in the United States, which I do not believe is 100% true.

    A few personal experiences I have had in Japan over the last decade:

    1) The neighborhood I lived in in the United States (I would classify as lower middle class) had no crime (and I do mean literally none) in 11 years. The neighborhood I live in in Japan (considered to be “middle class +” has had 3 break ins (robberies) in 7 years. The perpetrators were found to be Japanese, but the signs indicating the increased security steps (increased police patrols and use of cameras) were written in Japanese AND BOLD RED ENGLISH.

    2) On 3 occasions over a 10 year period I had to take my son to the emergency room. On 2 occasions there was not a doctor in the emergency room and we were turned away (a story that is happening more and more often here)

    3) A very good Japanese friend of mine who is well educated, lived in the United States and a couple of other foreign countries, and gets along well with folks from all over the world told me once of the place I live “Be sure to lock your bicycle at all times as there are alot of foreigners there”. This is from a Japanese friend that is nearly bicultural.

    I do like the comparison to the movie Sicko. I am not a Michael Moore fan but do agree with his movie (his most credible work – except for the trip to Cuba).

    The sad part is…

    What Michael Moore depicted in the movie Sicko can be changed over a relatively short period of time and it appears that one way or another the United States is going to take on the challenge (will we succeed? and at what cost? time will tell).

    On the other hand, I do not think that the institutionalized distrust and scapegoating of foreigners in Japan (a general statement as I do know not all Japanese do this) is not as easily repaired as the United States’ broken health care system as it requires the reversal of deep rooted beliefs.

    I guess back to the original point: For those of us who have not chosen to naturalize or are not married to a Japanese spouse….what keeps us here and invested in Japan? And.. is it worth staying? (Something I find myself asking more and more as time goes on).

    Debito – I think this would be an interesting poll question (probably requires written answer rather than multiple choice style). I think this is a question that alot of us foreigners in Japan really never contemplate and discuss on a deep level. I think examining this question (especially among folks that have been here a while) might provide valuable insight as to how to make groups such as Franca more effective.

  • Doug, that’s a good question. Sometimes I find myself wondering. I’m not nearly as long-term as some people, nor do I have a family. But I do enjoy the ease of life, and many other aspects.

    But like the movie, I just don’t expect it to happen to me. I hear about people getting nabbed for things, dust-ups where the foreigner is the only one in trouble. But those things just don’t really register. This is probably foolish on my part, but we’re all just playing the odds.


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