Dia dokutâ (Dear Doctor)(親愛的醫生) (2009) is a uniquely postmodernist Japanese film based upon a novel by Miwa Nishikawa (西川美和) and adapted for the screen and directed by herself. To me, everything in that film is marked by a blurring of boundaries, starting from the very title of the film, which looks like a Japanese transliteration of an emotive English term coupled with a Western professional title, an obvious juxtapositioning of two completely different cultures, extending to the mixing of genre of novel and film, the grafting of mid-West American country music on to a most Japanese countryside, the contrast between modern and the traditional Japanese cultures, the interface of Western medical instruments, pills, surgery with a silver bullet approach to health problem with a very Eastern concept of healing of the person rather his/her illness, the application of a very new Western criminal investigative technique into the story of the disappearance of a "doctor" much loved and adored by the senile inhabitants of a very traditional small Japanese village, the conflict between the head and the heart, between truth and falsehood, between reality and illusion or delusion. There is also a very postmodern collapsing of the 4 dimensional world into two, just surface area: the past and the future collapsing into the living present, the here and now, which seems the only spot where time has got any meaning at all and nothing remains but the spectacle of social roles, a world in which each plays out his individual part and the world has become one in which there can no longer be any modernist truths which are valid at all times, for all people, under all kinds of culture and the only "truths" permissible are local truths valid only for particular persons, particular places at a specific point in the traditional "historical" time, one in which feeling and humanity still reign supreme. Yet all these apparent "identities", "parallels", "similarities" and "analogies" are all divided by what appears to be certain irreconcilable, unbridgeable and impossible "différances." in a world where as Jean François Lyotard says, there is only incredulity towards any modernist "meta-narratives". However, such Derridarean "différances" are never shown to be as sharp, as brutal, as disruptive as they could have been if the film had been produced and directed by a Western director. No doubt the film displays a certain element of postmodern irony and play, yet such display is pervaded with a touch of a very Japanese and a very feminine sense of subtlety.
As the film opens, we see in a long shot a flickering light which passes through a tree and field studded countryside in the dark. It appears to be a man on a motor bike. Eventually the motorbike stops before an old fashioned Japanese house where various old people, male and female, are gathered. They are all eager to know if the biker had found their doctor. In the next scene, we see a brash red BMW driven by a young man through the beautiful countryside in the morning. To avoid an oncoming motorbike, he crashes into a ditch by the paddy field. In the next scene, he meets the local doctor who checks him out carefully. The doctor is Dr. Osamu Ino (Tsurube Shôfukutei 笑福亭 鶴瓶 ) and the young man is Keisuke Soma(Eita 瑛太) who has been assigned to do his summer internship at the village. Then the film cuts into a small room where two men are talking, wondering why Dr. Ino chose to practise in a such an out of the way small village where he could not have earned very much.
As the film progresses, we learn with the detectives that nobody at the village knows the true family and educational background of Dr. Ino but every one speaks of him with affection. We are also shown snippets of how Dr. Ino literally goes out of his way to visit his patients at their hom instead of making them come to the clinic for treatment and to make sure that they feel better. We are also shown how each night, he would pour over popular and not so popular medical books on how to treat various forms of what looks like very common diseases and how very often, whenever he is in doubt, his nurse Akemi Ohtake (Kimiko Yo余 貴美子) would give him strong hints on what to do, particularly on a case where a farmer could not breath and he was practically forced by his assistant to perform two needle punctures on the man's chest to help the release of air from a blocked lung. The man was later rushed to a modern hospital where the surgeon praised him for his excellent and extremely timely intervention and he just nodded in confused embarrassments. Then in another scene, where an old man's heart stopped breathing for a while after he fainted during the middle of a meal. He examined him and thought nothing could be done. Then he hugged the man and patted his back out of sympathy or genuine affection and out came, to every one's surprise, a sushi which blocked his oesophagus. It was obvious that that was a fluke. But everyone thought that Dr. Ino was a hero and miracle worker. The villagers staged a 'bonsai show" in his honor. He said he did not deserve it but everyone thought that he was just being modest. He attended the celebration nonetheless.
Normally, Dr. Ino just prescribed vitamin pills, various supplements and pain killers and hypertension drugs. But in the case of a beautiful widow Kaduko Torikai ( Kaoru Yachigusa八千草 薫) whose husband used to a doctor and one of whose daughters was also a doctor practising in a big Tokyo hospital,her stomache appeared to be something more serious than the normal ulcer. He appeared to be particularly fond of her and she of him. He prescribed something to stop internal bleeding and had a scan done. He advised her to go a proper hospital for treatment but Kaduko told him she did not want to worry her very busy doctor-daughter and made him promise not to inform her of it. But when her daughter Ritsuko Torikai(Haruka Igawa 井川遥 ) came to visit her during her short annual leave, she discovered by accident the internal bleeding drug in the dust bin and decided to have a serious professional discussion with Dr. Ino during which she finally decided that her mother might have cancer, especially after Dr. Ino confirmed that her mother really had internal bleeding. Immediately after that, Dr. Ino disappeared, not however before he pinched the bottom of Akime at the exit to his clinic, something which he probably had been itching to do for years and not before he waved goodbye to Kaduko on her way to her potato fields in her quiet and elegant manner.dressed in an impeccable kimono. The previous night, when Soma told Dr. Ino he really enjoyed working with the people in the area and that he would like to return to work there the following year, Dr. Ino confessed to him that he was a quack.
We are also shown how the detectives talk to Dr. Ino's mother telling her that they were investigating into the sudden disappearance of their son, a doctor from that remote village and was met with silence. The police also interviewed Masayoshi Saimon (Teruyuki Kagawa 香川 照之), the pharmaceutical salesman, who also had suspicions of the medical competency of Dr. Ino but who could well sympathize with the latter's desire to be able to help people in pain simply out of a mix of a very human desire to be able to do something to relieve another human being of their obvious pain and suffering and receive the look and other expression of gratitude from one's patients and who confessed that he would like to be a doctor too. To prove his point, he deliberately and without any prior warning, fainted and collapsed on to the floor and got the detective to spontaneously jump up to help "revive" him. We learned that Dr. Ino used to be a pharmaceutical salesman, just like him.
We are also shown how after Dr. Ino ran away, he called his mother to tell her not to worry and confessed how he had stolen the pen given to his father as a gift in honor of his 50 years of service at his hospital and how he was waiting for a train on the same train station as the detective working on his face, both smoking, but with their back to each other. They seemed to be doing exactly the same thing, but each facing a different direction.
In the final scene, we are shown "Dr. Ino" slipping into the hospital room where Kaduko was waiting for her meals, dressed in the white coat of a hospital orderly and asking if she wanted some snacks. The film ended with Kaduko giving him a very serene smile, full of tenderness and a quiet joy and "Dr. Ino" smiling back sheepishly, the way he always did.
I like this film, with some stunning photography and lighting, calm, neat and clean and yet not clinically so. One can feel the genuine warmth Dr. Ino feels for his patients, something which obviously affected the young intern Soma, whose father was the head of private hospital in Tokyo, where according to him, everything was just "medical problems" to be tackled, money and efficiency and patients are just part of the "issues" to be disposed of by the system as quickly as possible. I also like the way Miwa Nishikawa explores the issue about the proper relations between professional competence and doctor-patient relationship. The ending of the film leaves us wondering which is more important, the medical problem considered in isolation or the human being in need of some form of "treatment" and if so the proper manner for dispensing and receiving such "treatment". Perhaps the "différance" is one that can never be completely and conclusively resolved, one way or another. Perhaps there is more than one kind of "truth" and as the film seems to emphasize, there are more than one "correct" way one can travel along the path of a man's life? Who is "Dr Ino", the man who is supposed to be the son of his parents in Tokyo, a pharmaceutical salesman posing as a "doctor", thus identifying with his admired father or the "character" as narrated through the mouths of the various villagers talking about him or the "doctor" who does not follow the Tokyo-style medical practitioner that so endeared him to Soma and the man who follows the "humanity" of Japanese medicine in the countryside, or the "caring man" that Kaduko sees in him, or the "fake/impostor/charlatan" as an unsolved "enigma" or just a case of "disappearance and /or fraud" in the mind of the two detectives, or Ino in his new capacity of hospital orderly? Is he the fake"
doctor who does "real" healing work that we see on the screen, albeit
as often by fluke or by studious night-time private studies and through the active connivance of his medically
trained "assistants"? Or does the "truth" only emerge in the fruitful
and meaningful absence operating through its interfaces of the eyes and
mouths of different characters in the film and one which shifts
constantly between the different levels of social reality and
scientific, physical and psychological "reality"? Is a man what he does? Is a man what he is reported to be by those who come into contact with him in daily life? Is a man the "professional" qualifications he is accredited by the relevant academic institutions? Or is a man what he know from his own studies? it appears that nowadays, the "truth" can no longer be innocent and can't be stated simplistically. Whatever the answer might be, there is no doubt that the film helps Nishikawa amass a number of awards for this film: for the best screenplay; Kimiko Yo got the best supporting actress award from the Japanese Academy 2010 and Nishikawa got the Blue Ribbon Award as the best director and Tsurube Shôfukutei and Eita both got the same as respectively the best actor and the best supporting actor for their wonderful performances.