A newly compiled DVD features a dramatic re-enactment of how police coerced a man during interrogation in 1963 to confess to the murder of a 16-year-old high school girl in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture.
The drama was based on the actual audio recordings of the police questioning of 24-year-old Kazuo Ishikawa, who eventually was sentenced to life in prison. After more than 30 years behind bars, he was paroled in 1994 and is now seeking exoneration.
The tapes were disclosed by prosecutors in 2010 as Ishikawa, now 78, goes through the process of trying to get a retrial over the high-profile incident, which came to be known as “the Sayama Case.”
His supporters and lawyers say the drama shows how an innocent person can be driven into making a false confession.
The 15 hours of tapes cover parts of the interrogation that ran from June 20 to 25 in 1963, during which Ishikawa confessed to the murder after repeatedly declaring his innocence in the preceding month.
The 55-minute drama consists of five scenes. In the first, three investigators surround Ishikawa and hound him about a letter that was delivered to the victim’s family that May 1 demanding a ¥200,000 ransom before the victim’s body was found three days later.
The interrogators badger him, saying, “It’s no mistake that you wrote it, and you are obliged to explain why you did so.” Ishikawa, in handcuffs, responds by saying, “I don’t know” or “My answer will not change even if you repeatedly ask me.”
As is standard practice, Ishikawa had no legal representation during the interrogation.
In another scene, a police officer who was a longtime acquaintance of Ishikawa’s family has a one-on-one session with the suspect who admitted he was involved in the murder with two accomplices.
While Ishikawa refuses to reveal their names, the officer, offering him a cigarette, says, “I feel sorry for your family if you bear all the blame by yourself,” and “I cannot forgive the remaining two,” in an apparent attempt to persuade Ishikawa via their personal connection.
Ishikawa, surprisingly, said a few days said he had acted alone.
Given the changing situation, the officer struggles again to get Ishikawa to remake his statements so they match the evidence that had already been obtained.
Ishikawa, seemingly at a loss to explain how he killed and buried the girl, asks the officer, “Which is better?” and presents several scenarios — a situation that his supporters call “revelation of ignorance” rather than “revelation of a secret.”
The DVD depicts the police officer and Ishikawa collaborating to create the murder story other investigators want to hear, with the officer providing Ishikawa with clues for making coherent statements.
The drama also indicates the interrogators may have been aware that Ishikawa was almost illiterate, making the case by his lawyers that it was impossible for him to write an elaborate letter like the ransom note as he had not completed even an elementary-level education.
Born into an extremely poor family in a socially disadvantaged buraku (outcast class) district, Ishikawa had to work from childhood to support his family. People in such districts are descendants of social outcasts from feudal times.
His lawyers and supporters argue that his prosecution was part of the continuous discrimination against people from buraku districts.
Ishikawa eventually learned how to read and write in prison.
The drama was directed by Eizo Yamagiwa with financial aid from Ishikawa’s support group. Yamagiwa is known for the popular “Ultra Series” featuring the superhero Ultraman.
“In writing the script and directing the film, I found that the interrogators and Mr. Ishikawa talked past each other,” Yamagiwa, also a veteran human rights activist, said. “It is apparent that the two sides had no other choice but to accept the predetermined scenario” that Ishikawa was the culprit.
Yamagiwa has shown the DVD to study sessions on Japan’s criminal justice system, telling the attendees that he expects them to understand through the drama that Ishikawa’s confession came from “ill-advised negotiations” between himself and the interrogators.
Ishikawa, for his part, says the “actual interrogations were much tougher than the DVD images, as the police officers sometimes pounded on the desk.”
“The drama depicts how a suspect is questioned in Japan,” said Satoshi Yasuda, a longtime supporter of Ishikawa. “I expect the DVD to be watched widely to raise public awareness over the crusade of Mr. Ishikawa to reopen the case.”
Ishikawa has lived under various restrictions while on parole. He is required to regularly present himself to a probation officer and to request permission to travel.
He says he is still in “invisible handcuffs.”