In Black Box Diaries, director Shiori Ito confronts abuse but also a deeply flawed legal system. Her quest for justice begins in spring 2015. Then a young intern at Thomson Reuters, Ito found herself in a nightmarish situation with Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a prominent media figure with political connections in Japan. At the time, he worked at the Tokyo Broadcasting System Television and was the personal biographer for Shinzo Abe, the former prime minister of Japan.
After she reported a sexual assault incident against Yamaguchi she was met with formidable challenges, as she navigated a legal system steeped in outdated laws that placed burden of proof on the victims. Ito’s struggle was not just against her assailant but also against a societal framework that silences survivors. Facing public slander, character assassination and the daunting reality of confronting Yamaguchi, she had no idea that acting as an investigative journalist for her own story would propel the country into their own #MeToo wave protest. Ito’s resilience led to a broader conversation about sexual violence in Japan, challenging norms and sparking a movement towards legal and cultural change.
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With unflinching access, we trail Ito as she covertly records conversations, desperately chasing leads before the truth can be buried for good. When even the lone sympathetic investigator gets removed from her case, likely over Yamaguchi’s connections, it confirms a nationwide conspiracy to cover up powerfully backed assaults. Yet Ito responds not with resignation but expanding her allies, teaching herself legal procedures, leaning on bolstering friends — modeling the support structure individuals need when corroborating systemic abuse.
Ito allows the camera to intimately capture her struggles seeking justice. We witness the immense psychological trauma that forces Ito to rely on sleeping pills just to rest, the paranoia from constant surveillance outside and possibly inside her home, and the isolation of being publicly branded a liar. We see her expressions as she processes traumatic information about her own attack, and see the ebb and flow as she realizes she cannot separate herself from the work put into her own story. Precise filmmaking puts us in her mindset through this exhausting investigation, capturing the sadness, joy and determination pushing her forward despite all momentum against her. Ito, often told by the police that her story exists unseen in a bureaucratic “black box,” constructs a profile of resilience within a system aligned against sexual assault survivors.
As much as a personal chronicle, Black Box Diaries indicts systems that allow the influential to act with impunity. When institutions meant to protect instead ignore abuse, Ito’s DIY investigation serves as a manual for sidestepping gatekeepers of truth. Her story bridges the personal and political, proving the only choice when fighting is to move forward — through hidden cameras if needed.
For Ito, closure overrides all, which the film presents as the mind-set required when investigating one’s own abuse. A call for accountability beyond borders, it suggests sometimes journalists are the most fearless among us, pushing past what defeats others in pursuit of what matters most.
Title: Black Box Diaries
Festival (Section): Sundance (World Documentary Competition)
Director: Shiori Ito
Running time: 1 hr 43 min
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