The Journalist (Japan, 2019) [JAPAN CUTS 2019]

Directed by Michihito Fujii and based on a book by Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalist stars Shim Eun-Kyung as Erika Yoshioka, a reporter for a Tokyo Newspaper, and the daughter of an esteemed freelance journalist. Erika believes that a reporter’s job is to inform the public and that is exactly what she is trying to do amid rising scandals in Japan’s government. While investigating another possible scandal involving the funding and approval of a new medical school, Erika crosses paths with Takumi Sugihara (Tori Matsuzaka), a bureaucrat working for the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office. Takumi’s former boss and mentor has just committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. It is soon discovered that a document sent anonymously to Erika came from Takumi’s mentor and it involves an even bigger government scandal than Erika initially thought.

The Journalist is an effective drama that demonstrates the role the media should have in a democratic country while also showing the seedy underbelly, where corrupt politicians can hold sway over newspaper and news media editors. Using the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, which is supposed to play an important role in National Security, members of the government use their contacts to either bury a story or to disseminate misinformation and outright lies to protect themselves and the government from any legitimate scrutiny. Erika is a hard-working and tenacious reporter who is able to convince Takumi to help her get the information she needs to prove what it actually going on with the supposed medical school. Takumi’s mentor left many clues, but the young bureaucrat must find and effectively leak the necessary information to complete the puzzle and keep the real story from being covered up.

The acting and directing are excellent. We can readily see how the current circumstances are affecting Takumi, and how he wants to do the right thing to avenge his former boss, even, potentially at the expense of his young and growing family. Erika is at times reminded about the death of her father and the belief that either the government or media were complicit. The story, which is nicely paced is, at times, harrowing without going overboard. It stays a realistic drama without drifting into thriller territory, thus never becoming unbelievable. Some of the characters may be downright sinister but are nonetheless surprisingly normal: bureaucrats are willing to follow orders from above but also make subtle threats when needed to keep others in line. Essentially, do your job, keep your head down, and you’ll be fine.

The Journalist thoroughly captures the current state of affairs between governments and the media, and the potential for lines to become blurred, or crossed altogether. It conveys a timely lesson for the media and the public alike – be careful of your news sources and keep them varied.

The Journalist is showing at JAPAN CUTS 2019 on July 27.