Mar 7

WIT Life #379: Black Box Diaries

Interpreter/Translator/Writer Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) presents WIT Life, a periodic series about aspects of Japanese culture such as art, film, food and language. Stacy starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she offers some interesting tidbits and trends along with her own observations.

Last night I went to the screening of the documentary Black Box Diaries, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. This film directed by Shiori Ito depicts her own five-year journey from being raped by an older colleague in 2015 to the court case she brought against her perpetrator. You might recall hearing about her crusade, as she had been featured as one of Time’s Most Influential People of 2020 and wrote a memoir about the incident called Black Box. This film does a deep dive from Ito’s point of view as a journalist investigating her own case. She states that maintaining this relative objectivity is the only way she was able to tell her story, as directly facing herself and what happened would be too difficult.

Her honest portrayal is as harrowing as you might imagine, and this film is a tough watch. Ito provides a personal trigger warning at the beginning, one of many written messages superimposed throughout the film in her own handwriting. Along with interspersed confessional videos, these messages serve to connect us to the narrator and illuminate her mental state. Ito delves into the personal and professional ramifications of her assault, boldly holding nothing back. She uses her story to advocate for legal reform, as at the time the legal age of consent was 13 (it’s now 15) and male victims weren’t recognized (and now systematic sexual abuse within the Johnny’s talent agency has been exposed). It’s amazing to realize that Ito took on Japan’s rape culture and patriarchal society six months before Me Too became a concept. The moment in the film when she hears about the Weinstein case is one of pure joy, as she realizes that her bravery was not for naught and that she is part of an international movement.

The film has yet to be released in Japan, the place where its viewing is most necessary. In light of the huge backlash Ito got for going public, ranging from typical sexist tropes regarding her appearance to death threats that forced her to leave the country for a time, it will be interested to see how the film is received. When asked what her future plans were during the post-screening Q&A, Ito said that her documentary travels next to South by Southwest, and from there she hopes to build momentum for screenings in her home country.

In other Japanese movie news, fans of fright will be happy to hear of the Japanese horror fest currently at Film Forum. It features classics such as Ring, House, Cure, Kwaidan and Ichi the Killer, and goes through March 21. Happy viewing!

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