Japan’s Haunted Pop-Culture Courts

I’ve noticed a strange pop culture trope unique to Japan (“just one?”) and it’s made me think. Why isn’t more ghost-delivered evidence admissable in court? I’ve realized that in Japan’s fictional courtrooms, testimony delivered by channeling is acceptable. At what point in Japanese pop-cultural history did ghost-testimony become a decisive part of their judicial system? 

"As you can see, your honor, I suffered the pecuniary damage due solely to the plaintiff's tortious conduct."

“As you can see, your honor, I suffered the pecuniary damage due solely to the plaintiff’s tortious conduct.”

Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is famous for telling its story from the perspective of multiple unreliable narrators. One of these points of view is that of a samurai’s ghost, whose deceased state ultimately doesn’t make him any less trustworthy than the other participants. The samurai tells his story through a miko, a medium who channels the dead and makes surprisingly frequent appearances in their judicial system. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a multiformat series about the eponymous lawyer. Like in Rashomon, mediums contribute to solving multiple cases in the video game series. The third game, Trials and Tribulations, reveals a ghost-witness as the decisive final-act twist—a development that would shock an American jury with their silly Law & Order: JAG notions of amicus this and being alive that.

Japan is a country with a rich mythology as far as supernatural beings go. If Spirited Away taught me anything, it’s that spirits are evidently going on with pretty mundane afterlives, like spa days or witnessing petty crime. The Wikipedia page on kaidan makes it sound like Japanese mythology has a lot of ghosts out there trying to enforce normative ethics.  Rather than Japan having a culture of uniquely moralistic ghosts, though, these are probably the same sort of prescriptive stories that every country has as part of their canon. I definitely don’t think there’s some wack, Malcolm Gladwell-esque explanation that’s a combination of half-baked racial essentialism and obtuse cultural myopia. God, Malcolm Gladwell sucks.

"We have decided to retain the services of 'Wright, Marley & Christmas Past.'"

“We have decided to retain the services of ‘Wright, Marley & Christmas Past.'”

It is strange, though, that Japan seems to be the only country that is so receptive to eyewitnesses from beyond the grave. It makes one wonder why more countries don’t have folkloric creatures showing up in needed civic roles. Not to say this is always good—large portions of Norway’s troll population were collaborators with the Quisling government, for instance, and Salam Fayyad’s economic policies were criticized by many in the Palestinian Authority due to his overreliance on the counsel of Djinns. All I know is, we in America wouldn’t know to do if our courtroom dramas started to have ghosts show up with dispositive evidence. I blame Dick Wolf for giving us as pop culture consumers such a limited idea of what a trial should resemble. Why does it always have to be habeas corpus, why can’t we, like the Japanese, introduce the principle of habeas spiritum?

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