Review: Dear Doctor (2009)

Directed by:
Cast: , , , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Dear Doctor,

It’s been 6 months since you left without saying goodbye. There have been a lot of rumours about you, but even if they are all true, we still want to tell you how grateful we are for all the things that you have done for our village over the past few years.

Yours sincerely,

Residents of your village

A country doctor has gone missing. The police is involved and soon discovers that while most of the village people think remarkably highly of him, there is actually little known about him. As they go on to interview many of those who were closely associated with him, it becomes apparent that he is a man with many secrets…

The title of the film is one of the best I have seen in recent years. Simple, yes, but also deeply meaningful. The film could easily have been called Disappearance of Osamu Ino (like the recent superb kidnap thriller – sorry beautiful Ms Creed, I can’t say too much about your film here cos’ our site is all about Asian cinema), but that would not highlight what a special character this doctor is. The word ‘dear’ in the title does not refer to the cost of this doctor’s service (though the movie does hint that he earns a fortune), but how close he is to the villagers and the place he has in the hearts of many of them.

It is ironic then, that his real identity is at conflict with his perceived role of a doctor. I don’t want to discuss this here for it may spoil your viewing pleasure. All I want to say is that the character is flawed but at the same time compelling. Actor Tsurube Shôfukutei brings the doctor character to life, and impressively achieves so not so much by spoken words, but his facial expressions and body language that perfectly portray the conflicting emotions of pride and guilt experienced by Dr Ino.

The cast is stellar and performances are solid all round. Stand outs include those by Kimiko Yo playing the experienced nurse who frequently keeps the doctor out of trouble at times of crisis (and deservingly winning the Japanese Academy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role), Kaoru Yachigusa playing the very ill elderly widow in what I consider an equally impressive performance as Yo’s, and Teruyuki Kagawa playing the drug company sales representative who perhaps knows the most about the doctor’s secrets.

The story is told brilliantly by director Miwa Nishikawa, who also wrote the script, for which she won Screenplay of the Year at the Japanese Academy Award. She progressively and cleverly reveals the doctor’s role in this small village, and the reason so many people, including young medical intern Dr Suma, come to respect him so much despite his often ineffective treatment.

Dear Doctor is a fine example of an interesting story told well, and ultimately it is a rich character-driven drama featuring great performances. Just as a bonus, the Japanese countryside is wonderfully captured on film by the camera of Katsumi Yanagijima and this is a gorgeous picture to look at. I would sincerely recommend this film to anyone who enjoys fine dramas.

Just a few words about the Japanese Film Festival: Of the five films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Japanese Academy Award, four will be showcased at the upcoming Japanese Film Festival in Australia, and Dear Doctor is one of them. 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!

9 life-saving needles applied by Dr Ino out of 10.
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