Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Boston/Japan ’20: The Journalist

Pick your paranoid poison: military industrial complex or deep state. The conspiratorial world views of the far left and the far right definitely seem to be converging, probably because they were never really that different to begin with. You can see elements of both brands of tinfoil hat-wearing fever dreams in Michihito Fujii’s political thriller, The Journalist, which screens as part of the 2020 Boston Festival of Films from Japan.

Erica Yoshioka is the journalist, just like her late American-trained father. Unfortunately, he fell victim to a scoop that imploded on him, ultimately costing him her life. His example will weigh heavily on her when she sees conscientious bureaucrat Toshinao Kanzaki kill himself after getting scapegoated for government malfeasance. She suspects Kanzaki was the anonymous source that sent her revealing documents regarding a dodgy medical college, suspiciously funded by the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office (CIRO, Japan’s CIA) rather than their HHS.

Obviously, Yoshioka will not be getting anymore information from him, but his disillusioned protégé Takumi Sugihara might be ready to crash the system. The CIRO bureaucrat was already sick of the online trolling and disinformation operations he oversees. The death of Kanzaki might just push him over the Deep Throat edge. However, he still has a responsibility to protect his pregnant wife and unborn daughter.

It might be paranoia porn, but the Journalist is still a highly watchable, slick and glossy thriller, very much in the tradition of 1970s classics. Granted, all of the villains a faceless, soul-dead caricatures, but the two co-protagonists are quite intriguing, due to their subtle complexity and conspicuous human failings. Frankly, they are both somewhat socially inept and neither is a stranger to fear and self-doubt. Tori Matsuzaka’s portrayal of Sugihara is appropriately smart and calculating, while Shim Eun-kyung’s Yoshioka is a deeply compelling bundle of neuroses and insecurities.

Yoshioka is a flawed but virtuous scribe, but journalists as a professional class take quite a few hits during The Journalist, generally for being insensitive tabloid bottom-feeders and boot-licking stenographers for those in power. Yes, that sounds about right. Throughout the film, Fujii steadily increases the tension and the paranoia quite adroitly. It is a good film, but it shouldn’t shape your perspective on the world. Recommended for fans of shadowy halls-of-power thrillers, The Journalist screens tomorrow (2/20) and Sunday (2/23) as part of the Boston Festival of Films from Japan.