In 2017, Japanese journalist Shiori Ito publicly revealed that she was raped by prolific politics journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi when she was working as an intern in 2015. But upon reporting it to the police, a related investigator was re-assigned to another department and despite the police having a warrant, Yamaguchi’s arrest was halted by the ‘higher-ups’. Directed by and starring Ito, Black Box Diaries details her fight for justice while questioning the patriarchal laws of Japanese society that leave raped or assaulted women fearing of the stigma of being identified as a victim.
Upon disclosing her identity and revealing her trauma in a press conference, no major network picked up her story and Ito was instantly criticised as either being at fault or an opportunist. It paints a sad tale as the reception highlighted old-fashioned values ultimately drove public opinion rather than garner support or raise awareness to a movement that had yet to manifest. Nonetheless, she finds there is more than the simple dismissal of her case is at play and refuses to cower in the background. She also finds solace among other women, especially in the media, who have similarly felt the need to suppress their femininity to protect themselves – this would eventually manifest into the related #KuToo movement, where women were expected to always wear high heels in the workplace.
The events in the documentary points to Japan’s long-standing double-standards against women. Not only does it cover the obstacles that women have had to face in the workplace but how the country’s notable bias towards men highlights hypocritical behaviour. One key example involves Ito’s concerns that the release of Black Box – her book that details the events around her initial report – would be affected if she chooses to disclose the names of involved parties. However, the initial arrest of Yamaguchi was coincidentally close the release of his own book – a biography of Prime Minister Abe, which was shortly launched with no issues. The film includes footage involving several political parties openly questioning the convenience of the halted arrest but no-one can answer with a comprehensible answer. Even a phone call between Ito and a key investigator takes an uncomfortable turn when supportive banter becomes light booze-fuelled flirting, which comes across as inappropriate considering Ito’s ordeal. It all comes back to an endless cycle of vague answers, building up a frustration that Ito continually express when all she wants is to be taken seriously.
Littered throughout the documentary are Ito’s personal videos that document her physical and mental toll of the ordeal while she also releases Black Box. Similar to the events related to disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, there is a higher power controlling events in the shadows but in this case, it was Japan’s prime minister. With both the government and the police refusing to aid Ito, it presents an uphill struggle that raises questions about how authorities address rape cases let alone those against high-profile figures. Aware of her position as a journalist but is unable to name names out of fear of retribution, she is left fearing for her life and unable to get answers. But despite her trauma, her journalistic side sees her take measures that highlight an awareness of who she is dealing with such as staying away from home, covert recordings and checking for wiretaps while reinforcing her integrity and the intimidating lengths she has to face.
Throughout her relentless journey, Ito doesn’t paint herself as a victim. Despite the backlash of her initial press conference (where she was labelled as provocative due to her dress sense) and her book (where women spoke of their shame just to be the same sex as her), she doesn’t use her trauma for pity. Instead, she endearingly brushes off the criticism and carries on, presenting herself as a strong-willed woman first and a journalist second. Throughout the documentary, Ito proves that the events haven’t made her cold or unfeeling, but she is more considerate about pursuing the truth and subsequently, makes her a better journalist. With only 4% of rape cases being reported in Japan, she recognises that there is a chance for her to change how Japan views rape and consent cases without caving into cheesiness.
Similar to She Said, Black Box Diaries details how a woman turned her worst nightmare into a groundbreaking triumph. But unlike the Pulitzer-winning work of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, Ito’s work is more than breaking down a systemic pattern of abuse but redefining how a country protects women, so it is a compelling mission that needs to be supported.
Director: Shiori Ito
Stars: Shirori Ito
Runtime: 99 minutes