The Japanese legal system gets a thorough cross examination and innocence receives tough justice in Nipponese legal drama “I Just Didn’t Do It.” A long-awaited follow-up on his socko 1996 hit “Shall We Dance,” comedy helmer Masayuki Suo unexpectedly takes to drama in an earnest but entertaining manner. Robust helming and strong perfs enhance a detailed and wordy script that recalls the intensity of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man.” The minutiae of Japanese legalities and film’s length will make commercial prospects an open-and-shut case, but top-notch pic could find the wider aud it deserves on the fest circuit. Local B.O. during January release was respectable.
En route to a job interview, 26-year-old Teppei Kaneko (Ryo Kase) makes a last-minute leap on to a railway carriage and is forced into place by a station guard. His coattails jammed in the closed doorway, Teppei finds himself jammed up against a schoolgirl. As Teppei steps out at the next stop, the schoolgirl makes an accusation of sexual molestation and, with her word against his, Teppei finds himself hauled off to jail.
Railroaded by the arresting officer and advised to confess to ensure a quick release and a hefty fine, Teppei instead proclaims his innocence.
The protest sets in motion a draconian judicial process that ensures a lengthy custodial arraignment and leaves few allowances for a not-guilty verdict.
Teppei’s mother (the always dependable Masako Motai) and his friend Tatsuo (Koji Yamamoto) engage a fair-minded lawyer (Koji Yakusho) in attempt to save the unjustly accused commuter from the treacherous imbalances of the Japan legal system.
Yarn is deliberately paced but Suo convincingly handles legal facts and the Kafkaesque scenario. Pic is overlong by Western standards, but patient viewers will appreciate helmer’s determination to show the tedious and the wearing nature of the extended and inequitable legal process.
Ryo Kase (“Letters From Iwo Jima” “Strawberry Shortcakes”) delivers a minimalist but persuasive portrayal of a man caught in a legal and bureaucratic nightmare. Other perfs are likewise solid and “Shall We Dance” star Yakusho supplies his usual turn of convincing integrity. Music by Yoshikazu Suo is applied sparingly, with helmer Suo judiciously using silence to build tension. Other tech credits are pro.