One of the many benefits of the “Peak TV” phenomenon has been an explosion of niche shows, especially those that involve unexpected global collaborations. A few years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a series like Tokyo Trial, a collaboration between a Japanese network, a Danish and a Canadian one, starring an Indian actor in a multi-cultural ensemble, would be available for worldwide consumption. But in the age of streaming, every kind of taste is satiated.
The four-episode miniseries is a jarring change of pace from the breakneck plotlines of American or UK dramas. But for fans of deliberative period pieces, which focus on a lesser known aspect of history, there is much to dig into here.
Irrfan Khan really steals the show
Tokyo Trial shines the spotlight on the 12 judges of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East, responsible for adjudicating the cases against the Japanese army officers and politicians who perpetrated war crimes against the Chinese during World War II. The four episodes chart the progress of their heated debates as they decide the fate of the accused.
The core group of jurors, essentially a cast of crusty old men, are eminently watchable, especially actor Marcel Hensema who plays the Dutchman Justice Röling. But it isn’t until Irrfan makes an appearance as Justice Radhabinod Pal that the screen lights up.
Playing a contrarian, unafraid to challenge the popular opinion in the room, his performance is equal parts serene and tenacious. Tokyo Trial’s best moments come when Irrfan is pitted against the ensemble, forcing them to rise up to the occasion in the process.
This aspect of World War history isn’t as mainstream
In truth, the Tokyo Trials were as momentous and as unprecedented as the Nuremberg Trials – where the Nazis were prosecuted for their role in the Jewish Holocaust and Adolf Hitler’s regime. While TV has seen many iterations and chronicles of Nazi oppression, the Asian side of the Axis incursion is relatively less well-known.
Tokyo Trial is also a timely narrative told from a distinctly Asian perspective and uses real historical footage from the region, which should interest fans of wartime history.
The show deals with the complexity of justice
If your idea of stimulating TV includes a lot of time spent discussing nuanced legal and philosophical differences, this is the show for you. There are lengthy exchanges between the jurors about staying true to the letter of the law, the morality of crime and punishment, and standing up for your fundamental principles in the face of uncertainty.
Tokyo Trial also recalls some of the tension of the 1957 classic film 12 Angry Men. All the judges are strong personalities and when they clash over their ideals, the drama is subtly electrifying. Perversely, what makes the show interesting is also what might dissuade some viewers. It’s unhurried and measured, almost with a vengeance. Instead of taking a sledgehammer to your sensibilities, Tokyo Trial would rather take a pin to your conscience.
Watch the trailer here: