Dir: Satoshi Isaka
73 min., 35mm, 1:1.37, Color
Produktion: The Seiyu, Ltd. und Ace Pictures, Tokyo. Buch: Kazuo Shin. Kamera: Tetsuro Sano. Ausstattung: Tomoyuki Haruo. Musik: Hiroshi Mizuide. Schnitt: Satoshi Isaka. Ton: Yoshitaka Imai. Ausführende Produzenten: Masato Hara, Kazuo Kuroi. Produzenten: Junji Akai, Nobutsugu Tsubomi.
Darsteller: Tadanobu Asano (Kanemura), Keiko Unno (Yoko), Akira Shirai (Iwai), Tetsuro Sano (Sano).
Uraufführung: 30.9.1996, Tokyo International Film Festival
Weltvertrieb: Ace Pictures, 5-24-5 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113, Japan. Tel.: (81-3) 3817 6717, Fax: (81-3) 3817 6718.
Fri 14.02. 16:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Fri 14.02. 19:00 Delphi Sat 15.02. 10:30 Arsenal Sat 15.02. 17:00 Akademie der Künste
The TV crew has three people: director Iwai, who embodies the principles by which the mass media acts; cameraman Sano, an opportunist; and the only woman, assistant director Yoko Nakayama.
The crew's target: Kanemura, an introverted young freelance writer whose only contact with the outside world, it seems, comes through ham radio. Kanemura represents a generation which tries to interact with the world more viscerally through whatever means at hand, i.e. by letters to magazines, by telephone, by radio, or through the Internet.
Perhaps due to the chronic disease of his profession, Iwai openly flaunts an almost obscene curiosity typical for the media. He ignores Kanemura's rights and seeks to strip Kanemura naked, invade his private life, interpret it, and dissect it in his interview. Iwai tries to build up a clichéd story about this young man obsessed with eavesdropping.
Kanemura, for instance, has fallen in love over the telephone, a naive love, quite possibly Platonic. When this comes into Iwai's hands, it is made to seem a type of voyeurism. Kanemura turns from an introvert into a pervert. Perhaps he really is a pervert; in any case, this is a victory for the interpreter. Kanemura withdraws deeper into his shell.
Then the plot takes a strange twist. In the midst of his reporting, Iwai accidentally stumbles on a portable-phone conversation in which the smuggling of guns is discussed. Iwai has the perfect little tool on hand, and tries to set up a faked scene (‘yarase'). He repeatedly provokes Kenemura. As this goes on, a group of arrogant young toughs damages Kanemura's car which for him is the same as if his own body were wounded. Kanemura begins to fight back.
Guns and TV cameras. Classic instruments of power and modern instruments of power. Filmed and edited pictures are deemed to be the ,truth'. Kanemura will fight interpretation with ,truth'. He will remake the story. This young man has blocked himself off from normal communication with society; he has walled off his inner self because he is weak. Now his revenge begins. But the victim's revenge gradually turns into excessive revenge.
TV cameras and guns. Within a small group, a breath-taking power game. This time, a gruesome ,yarase' has begun which everyone fears and no one can stop.
FOCUS began as a movie script entitled ,Kisho Tenten' by Kazuo Shin, which was submitted to the 1994 Sapporo Image Seminar. It has now been made into a movie.
The protagonist is Kanemura, a freelance writer who is obsessed with eavesdropping. A TV news crew directed by Iwai decides to do a program about Kanemura. As the crew films actual eavesdropping by Kanemura, it eventually gets caught up in a dangerous web of guns and high-tech wizardry.
Through this case, FOCUS portrays with a documentary-like touch how personality can be radically altered through possession of power, be it a TV camera, a wiretap, or a gun. The title comes from the medical term for the part of a body where an infection is most active, stressing the film's spotlight on the ills of modern society.
The film also incisively probes the problematic state of broadcast media, where the posibility of faked scenes (‘yarase' in Japanese) always lurks in the quest to convey truth.
The principle behind filming was to have no cuts within scenes. The director has adopted the unique method of composing the pictures solely through the subjective eye of the camera. As a result, viewers receive impressions not only from the pictures in the finder but also from the world around the finder. He has made a special point of aiming for vivid film images by transferring Betacam originals onto 35mm film.
The image of the media in the movies has seldom been worse - or more superficial - than it is now. Instead of the wisecracking newsies of The Front Page or the whipsmart investigative journalists of All the President's men, we now have the cliché of the frantic TV reporter (usually a woman for some reason) asking the hero an inane question and jamming a microphone into his face - and the hero contemptuously brushing her off. How, one wonders, do these clueless and quoteless reporters ever get their stories?
The fact that the media pack does have a bite as well as a bark rarely makes it to the screen. Given that the Japanese pack is among the world's most ravening, this laceuna is particulary noticable in recent Japanese films. It is hard to think of one in recent years that has explored the relationship between the media and its victims in any depth.
Now, however, first-time director Satoshi Isaka has filled this gap brilliantly with FOCUS, whose central characters are an unscrupulous TV director and his target du jour. (...)
Within its simple day-in-the-life structure, the film not only incisively comments on the ills of present-day Japanese society, from the emptiness of its youth to the manipulativeness of its media, but also irresistibly builds to its shocking denouement. While stripping its characters close to the emotional bone, it never descends to the self-serving moralism or voyeuristic sensationalism of the media it is examining. Instead, it gives us the camera's relentlessly observing - and self-revealing - eye. That camera belongs to a three-man crew on an assignment to interview a young man named Kanemura with an unusual hobby: electronic eavesdropping. Iwai, the crew's director/reporter, is a seasoned pro of a familiar type: glib, slick and forever on the lookout for the main journalistic chance. The other crew members include an ambitious assistant director and an invisible cameraman. This interview, we soon realize as Iwai preps a nervous Kanemura on a neighborhood park bench, is just another stepping stone in his always-in-a-hurry career. (...)
Akira Shirai gives a pitch-perfect performance as Iwai that will make a more than few media types squirm with self-recognition (though most, given the nature of the beast, will grin, shrug and keep doing what they have always done).
As Kanemura, Tadanobu Asano displays a range not always apparent in his recent Blank Generation films Helpless and Picnic. He makes the sudden transition from put-upon wimp to flatout rageball feel inevitable. When the nerd turns, we realize that Kanemura's anger had always been boiling beneath the surface, that his eavesdropping was not as innocent as he tried to make it appear. Though Iwai's victim, he was also, in ways he did not understand himself, his colleague.
By using one cut per scene and viewing the films events through the crew's camera, FOCUS gives us the illusion of being behind-the-lens participants. More than just a strategy to draw us into the action, the film's point of view povides an unspoken but powerful commentary on the audience's own complicity with the media. Iwai and Kanemura, says Satoshi, are our creations, whose only roles are user and used, in a film whose final climax is spiritual degradation and death. Mark Schilling, in: The Japan Times, October 22nd, 1996
Satoshi Isaka studied under Shoji Segawa and Yoichi Higashi after graduating from Tokyo University. As a freelance director's assistant he has helped to produce many television dramas and movies. FOCUS is his debut as director.
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.