The Journalist (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A journalist against the power that be

Japanese film “The Journalist” steadily and diligently follows the lonely struggle of one determined female journalist and a government official who may help her more than he is willing to do. Although it is mostly fictional, the movie is still often alarming as showing how far a government and its people can go for securing their power and influence more, and its urgent social messages are certainly more relevant considering what has been going on in our world.

Everything begins with a highly sensitive document sent to a major newspaper company in Tokyo by somebody in the Japanese government. According to this document, there is something quite fishy about the government permission on a new medical university, and Erika Yoshioka (Shim Eun-kyung) promptly embarks on investigating the case while almost everyone else around her is skeptical about the contents of the document.

As Yoshioka continues her investigation, she becomes more convinced that the government is really hiding something, but the colleagues in her newspaper are already quite concerned about what may happen if she takes a wrong step at any point. As the daughter of a famous journalist who committed suicide after a disgracing incident, Yoshioka is certainly well aware of the risks she is facing now, but she is still driven by her determination on exposing the truth in public, and she keeps going as before despite the increasing pressure from the government.

Of course, a certain section of the government is already watching her, and we see many government officials working busily on gathering or spreading information in a big office where the sun never seems to shine in its oppressively dim environment. While some focus on gathering any information to be used against the public figures targeted by the government, the others are in the charge of spreading fake news and information via Twitter and other social media tools, and we cannot help but chilled by how easily they can tarnish their targets. One of these targets is a female freelance reporter who recently accused a prominent journalist of sexually assaulting her, and, just because that figure in question has supported and benefited the government a lot, her reputation swiftly gets smeared after she openly criticizes the unfair court decision on her case.

One of the government officials working in this section is a young man named Takumi Sugihara (Tori Matsuzaka). At first, he does not have much problem with doing whatever is ordered from his direct boss, but then he comes to have doubt on whether where he and others around him really serve the public, and this doubt of his is more increased after having a dinner with his former boss, who clearly has something to tell him but decides not to say much to him in the end.

Around the time when Takumi belatedly comes to realize what his government section has done to his former boss, his former boss unfortunately kills himself, and Takumi comes to have more doubt and guilt than before as being ordered to spared the fake information about his former boss’ suicide. He surely wants to quit especially after seeing the immense grief and sadness of his former boss’ wife and daughter, but he has a pregnant wife who will give birth to their child sooner or later, and his direct boss coldly points that out to him when he shows some defiance to his direct boss at one point.

In the meantime, as investigating the case more, Yoshioka comes to discern that Takumi’s former boss was involved with the case, so she subsequently approaches to Takumi, but Takumi, who has been already pressured and conflicted a lot, hesitates to tell her anything while warning to her that she must be really careful. While Yoshioka and her newspaper have been already targeted by his government section, Takumi has also become someone to watch at his workplace, and it is quite apparent to both of them that the Japanese government is really hiding something serious behind that medical university to be built.

While not hurrying itself at all, the screenplay by director Michihito Fujii and his co-writers Roba Shimori and Akihiko Takaishi, which is adapted from Isoko Mochizuki’s novel of the same name, slowly builds up the narrative momentum as constantly reminding us of what is being at stake for Yoshioka and Takumi. Although they are not directly threatened by their formidable opponent at all, they are kept being cornered by its subtle tactics, and the movie wisely does not lead to an easy resolution when they find themselves pushed into another very serious moment at the end of the story.

The main cast members of the film are well-cast on the whole. While South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung ably carries the film along with her co-star Tori Matsuzaka, their earnest performances are supported well by various supporting performers including Tetsuji Tanaka, who gives an unnervingly unflappable performance as a cynical man always ready to do anything for the government he has served for a long time.

In conclusion, “The Journalist” is an engaging journalism drama which will probably take you back to many other similar films such as “All the President’s Men” (1976). To be frank with you, I cannot tell you how much it reflects the social/political situation of Japan at present, and I admire its competent handling of story, mood, and performance, and that is enough for recommendation in my trivial opinion.

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