Stream it or skip it?

Thrillers about investigating government corruption don’t usually go too far into the details of the corruption itself. Let’s face it: darling land deals and payouts to contractors don’t really get your pulse racing. It’s the cover-ups, the efforts of officials to keep their jobs, and the investigation of those officials that make a good thriller. Netflix’s new series The journalist is about a journalist investigating a corruption case that reaches the highest levels of the Japanese government.

Opening shot: An overview of Tokyo, including the building where the Diet meets, Japan’s parliament.

The essential: Anna Matsuda (Ryoko Yonekura), journalist for the All news, asks a representative of the Prime Minister about various corruption scandals. Law enforcement. Shinichi Murakami (Go Ayano), Assistant to the First Lady, is in the Finance General’s office, showing him a good deal for a plot where the First Lady plans to open something called Eishin Academy. He says it is the Prime Minister’s wish that the office approve this deduction. Meanwhile, a young man named Ryo Kinoshita (Ryusei Yokohama) delivers the newspaper, even though he admits to his colleagues that he doesn’t read it.

When news of the land deal and the winning construction bid gets out, Matsuda is reassigned from the dead-end corruption story she was chasing to the land deal story. She chases Murakami to ask if he knows anything about it and he tells her he can’t talk. In the meantime, the prime minister is telling parliament that he is not involved in the deal. Murakami’s boss tells him to muzzle everyone involved.

In Nagoya, Kazuya Suzuki (Hidetaka Yoshioka) starts working at the local finance office. His transfer is unusual, as it takes place earlier in the year than is usually allowed. He goes home to his wife Mayumi (Shinobu Terajima), but then has to go home immediately. He is called by his boss to attend a top-secret meeting with the finance general, who is instructed to draft the documents on the Eishin Aademy deal to match the prime minister’s insistence that he or his family are not involved.

Suzuki can’t imagine having to tamper with records like this, but his boss orders him to, saying he’ll take full responsibility if it’s discovered. In the meantime, Murakami is removed from the First Lady detail and reassigned to the Cabinet Intelligence Office.

The journalist
Picture: Netflix

What shows will this remind you of? The journalist at Designated Survivor–type vibrations, where everyone seems to be looking for everyone. Except that here, even the head of state is corrupt. There was also a 2019 movie of the same name, which this series is based on.

Our opinion : To really enjoy The journalist, you have to be aware of government corruption scandals and their investigations, which can sometimes be a little dry and pedantic. You have the stubborn journalist who is on a mission to root out this corruption, and then you have the scowling faces of the various gray-suited bureaucrats trying to figure out how not to get caught. The details of the scandal seem less than important compared to the actions each takes to cover things up or reveal the truth.

Because in reality, buying land for the First Lady’s school building isn’t that exciting, and identifying the players involved gets a bit confusing. There is also the question of the other corruption case that Matsuda is investigating, which is apparently at an impasse but which has certain links to this current scandal and a company which connects to Ryo Kinoshita, the young student who starts everything just to get into the news.

How quickly this will develop and connect everyone is key to whether or not this political thriller will work for viewers. There’s a reason Matsuda is as driven and thick as she is, and we see a glimpse of it in the last scene; two young journalists explain how she had much thinner skin at the start of her career. But we’re going to have to see more of these worlds collide, and Matsuda go somewhere with his investigation, to make things more interesting than an inappropriate land deal.

Sex and skin: Nothing.

Farewell shot: As Suzuki and the rest of the local finance staff forge documents on the land deal, Matsuda goes to the hospital and sees her husband being treated for a seizure.

Sleeping Star: Shinobu Terajima, as Mayumi Suzuki, will likely be sucked into the corruption case when her guilt-ridden husband confesses his role to her. She’s the wild card here, and we hope she gets some good scenes.

The most pilot line: None that we could find.

Our call: SPREAD IT. We give a cautious recommendation to The journalist because we think writer Michihito Fujii laid the groundwork for a good story. But he must avoid getting bogged down in the details of the corruption and content himself with examining the motivations of everyone in the scandal.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

Flux The journalist On Netflix