Saturday, August 28, 2021

Japan Cuts ’21: KIBA The Fangs of Fiction

The Japanese publishing industry is more horizontally integrated than here in America. There, the line between book and magazine publishing is so porous, first serialization often comes baked into every big book deal. Japanese publishing houses still maintain literary journals to showcase their prestige authors, but diminishing ad revenue and circulation are just as challenging for them as they are for American periodicals. Nevertheless, a roguish editor shakes up the business with some unconventional signings in Daihachi Yoshida’s KIBA: The Fangs of Fiction which screens live-in-person today, as part of the 2021Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film, at the Japan Society.

is the prestigious literary journal of the Iba family’s media empire. Trinity is their other one. That is the one Teruya Hayami edits. Trinity was thought to be on its last legs, but when the publishing patriarch passes away, the resulting uncertainty presents opportunities for a sly dog like Hayami. He starts by poaching Kunpu’s unappreciated junior editor Megumi Takano.

With her help, they sign the debut novel of Sei Yazawa, a Michael Chabon-ish hipster postmodern thriller writer. They also steal away
Kunpu’s celebrated but lazy star author Daisuke Nikaido (think Norman Mailer in the 1980s) for his first manga. Really thinking outside the box, Hayami approaches model Saki Joshima to publish her secret Tarantino-esque hard-boiled fiction. However, the real coup would be snagging something from a legendary Salinger-like literary recluse.

It turns out two of the best films ever about the publishing industry are both Japanese. This is one of them. Yuya Ishii’s
The Great Passage is the other. Yoshida mixes sly workplace comedy with some surprisingly dark twists and turns, but somehow his tonal shifts are not as jarring as they might sound. It is not exactly a thriller per se, but one darned thing definitely happens after another.

Yo Oizumi is mordantly charming as Hayami, as he should be, since he inspired the character in Takeshi Shiota’s source novel. It is a blast watching him scheme and fast-talk, but the sincerity of Mayu Matsuoka’s Takano provides an appealing counter-point. In many ways, they are a perfect pairing. Elaiza Ikeda adds some unexpected poignancy as Joshima, while the great Jun Kunimura appropriately chews the scenery with relish as the hammy Nikaido. Yoshino Kimura also deserves notice for bringing surprising depth to Yuriko Kimura, the disciplined deputy editorial director of

In fact, it is rather refreshing to see so many colorful characters in
KIBA, considering how lock-step woke the U.S. industry has become. Trinity might be a chaotic and messy place to work, but it is also all kinds of fun. It is too bad the already made-up word of “dramedy” has largely become meaningless, because it would apply to KIBA, in the best way possible. Very highly recommended, KIBA: The Fangs of Fiction screens again in-person today (8/28) as part of this year’s Japan Cuts.