Michihito Fujii’s 2019 film “The Journalist” was an unlikely hit. A blunt criticism of then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration felt like commercial suicide; instead, it became a sleeper hit and won three Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The drama – loosely based on the exploits of Tokyo Shimbun journalist Isoko Mochizuki – also had major flaws, which makes this Netflix adaptation seem like a good opportunity, rather than just opportunistic.
Fujii is back in the director’s chair, and the series uses the same heavily stylized aesthetic as the film, though casting TV veteran Ryoko Yonekura in the lead role – taking over from South Korean actress Shim Eun – kyung – gives a more conventional tone.
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The story centers on a fictionalized version of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, a sleazy land deal involving a private school operator with ties to Abe and his wife. Fujii’s screenplay, co-written with Yoshitatsu Yamada and Kazuhisa Kotera, gives a detailed account of the ensuing cover-up, in which officials fabricated documents matching the Prime Minister’s Diet testimony.
It’s heartbreaking to watch at times, and the series aims for maximum impact by enlisting the eternally attractive Hidetaka Yoshioka to play Kazuya Suzuki, a guilt-ridden bureaucrat driven to suicide.
He’s not the only character forced to act against their principles: the official who actually made the deal, Shinichi Murakami (Go Ayano), finds himself reassigned to the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, where a legion of warriors from the keyboard does the government’s dirty work. job.
It’s up to hard-nosed journalist Anna Matsuda (Yonekura) to uncover the misdeeds, with the help of Kazuya’s steel widow, Mayumi (Shinobu Terajima). Their nemesis is Shinjiro Toyoda (Yusuke Santamaria), a public relations guru and special adviser to the Prime Minister, who just got away with defrauding the government of 10 billion yen. (It helps when you have friends in high places, apparently.)
Then there’s Ryo (Ryusei Yokohama), a college student working as a paperboy, who begins to take an interest in current affairs, only to find himself in history.
The show improves on the film in several ways. Its expanded canvas and five-hour runtime allow for a deeper account of who really pulls the levers of power in Japan. It also gets a little closer to the lives of working journalists, though Anna shows a superhuman ability to materialize at people’s doorsteps at the right time.
As faith in politics plummets around the world, “The Journalist” is certainly timely, though its pace is languid and the details of the story may be too parochial to grip international viewers. After a strong start, it stumbles in later episodes, becoming repetitive and increasingly sentimental.
Anyone who found Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” too off-putting might also want to give it up. The story’s villains are just as cartoonish as they were in the original film, and the messaging isn’t any more fancy.
There are entire scenes in which the dialogue seems to consist only of bullet points; at one point, a character even learns to read a newspaper. “The journalist” knows exactly what he means, which is a bit of a problem.
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