Imagine this: You are in a situation where you could save someone’s life, but in doing so you risk losing everything (and I mean everything) that you have. Would you do it? ‘Perhaps not’, I hear you say. How about if you are a doctor and that person you could save is your patient, would you be prepared to carry out your duty by performing that life-saving operation despite the possibility that you may lose your medical licence and be sent to jail? This is the dilemma the main character of A Lone Scalpel is faced with.
Dr Toma, a skilled surgeon, starts work at a regional hospital in Japan. After performing an operation to remove a patient’s liver cancer, something that normally would not be done at this hospital, he quickly gains a very good reputation amongst the town’s people. Some of his colleagues become so jealous they are resentful and waiting patiently for the perfect opportunity to crucify him. Soon they get their chance as Dr Toma considers performing a controversial operation…
This central character initially comes across as eccentric and humourless, but as he spends more time at the small hospital, his colleagues (as well as the audience) come to learn that he is noble, humble and capable. In other words, he is a damn fine doctor and as a human being would possibly qualify as a saint. So it does not take long for him to find his own supporters and admirers. The movie’s title may give the impression that he is all on his own, but while he is the one who makes the key decision, there is also a good team who is happy to stand by him whatever that decision happens to be. The always brilliant Shinichi Tsutsumi (Always: Sunset on Third Street – opening film JFF 2006, Maiko Haaan!!!, Suspect X) plays Dr Toma. His performance is most credible, and what stands out is his portrayal of the doctor’s determination to give his best to his patients, as well as the intense concentration given to every step of each operation.
The other performances are also excellent. Yui Natsukawa plays Dr Toma’s competent theatre nurse Nakamura, while Akira Emoto plays the funny and likeable Mayor Okawa. The younger cast members are also fantastic. Especially impressing me is the young actor who plays Toma when he was a child and has just one single scene in the entire movie. Managing to steal the show though is Kimiko Yo (Departures – closing film JFF 2008, Dear Doctor – JFF 2010), who gives an exceptional performance as a loving mother who has to endure a great deal of sadness.
The fine cast has certainly made the job of director Izuru Narushima easier, but he deserves much credit of his own for his handling of this emotion-filled drama. He has made a film that is touching without being over-sentimental. I was (only) just able to hold back my tears, but viewers who have active lacrimal glands are encouraged to take some tissues while watching A Lone Scalpel. My only slight criticism is Narushima’s rather clichéd portrayal of the bad guys in the movie as completely heartless characters who do all kinds of terrible things and are always annoyingly smoking like a chimney.
Overall, A Lone Scalpel is one fine film. The heart-warming story and wonderful performances are what make this film so immensely likeable. It is one of the best medical dramas I have seen in recent times, and I give it my highest recommendations. I just hope more people will get the chance to watch this film. It is in a word: beautiful.
Just a few words about the Japanese Film Festival: A Lone Scalpel will be the closing film for this year’s Japanese Film Festival. Other highlights include four nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Japanese Academy Award, as well as film festival favourite Confessions. There are also heaps of others to choose from in a particularly strong line-up of films at this year’s festival. And to help you decide what to see, we will endeavour to bring you many more reviews of films from JFF 2010 in the coming weeks!