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Sundance movie review: 'Black Box Diaries' an extraordinary work of journalism

Shiori Ito (R) brings rape charges against Noriyuki Yamaguchi in "Black Box Diaries." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Tsutomu
Harigaya
Shiori Ito (R) brings rape charges against Noriyuki Yamaguchi in "Black Box Diaries." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Tsutomu Harigaya

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The documentary Black Box Diaries, which screened online at the Sundance Film Festival, is a modern-day All the President's Men. While the Watergate movie was dramatized after the events, Black Box Diaries chronicles an ongoing case as it unfolds.

Director/subject Shiori Ito begins with a trigger warning to anyone in the audience who has experienced sexual abuse which shows kindness and consideration for potential viewers.

In 2017, journalist Ito decided to come forward with allegations that Washington Chief of Tokyo Broadcasting Noriyuki Yamaguchi raped her in 2015. The film follows her pursuit of justice through Japanese law enforcement, the judicial system and the media.

Ito records cell phone videos in English. She has cameras follow her in meetings.

Security camera footage of the night in 2015 shows Yamaguchi leading Ito out of a car through the Sheraton hotel lobby. She is not upright and barely ambulatory in the footage.

Shiori Ito directed "Black Box Diaries." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Oliver Abraham
Shiori Ito directed "Black Box Diaries." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute and Oliver Abraham

The culture surrounding rape in Japan appears to be even more repressive than the U.S. and other countries. Ito's family advises her not to come forward, and when she does, women Ito doesn't know attack her for harming Yamaguchi's reputation.

Double standards abound such as strangers suggesting Ito is doing this for career advancement, or criticizing her for showing too much cleavage in a blouse. Some are so violent as to suggest Ito should be choked.

It is rare for a survivor to even show her face in Japan, so Ito appearing to police and in the media is major. Ito says she has nothing to hide.

Ito has to do a lot of her own investigating. She records conversations with Investigator A, the officer in charge of her case, and others to tell her story. Often that audio is played over exterior shots of where the conversations took place.

While she's making this film, Ito is also writing her book, Black Box. A lot of the footage is casual video in her home.

Ito can be happy during this time. Coming up with the title Black Box empowers her and editing her book is professional and rewarding.

Ito can also get disappointing news of setbacks after things seemed to be going well, or find herself triggered into a panic attack just seeing Yamaguchi's photo in an article.

Much of Ito's story depends on investigators or witnesses risking their jobs going against the establishment. Ito is doing it too so she can relate and she knows each person can go either way.

But, when Ito lays out the information she needs a witness or investigator to disclose for her case, the suspense as she waits for an answer is palpable. And the relief when some agree is cathartic.

The Harvey Weinstein expose and #MeToo movement happens around when Black Box publishes and gives Ito hope. Yet she also continues to get hate mail from women and other troubling reactions to her work.

The Yamaguchi case is less well known in the U.S. but appears to be major news in Japan. The subject happened to be personal for Ito, but Black Box Diaries is a compelling framework for how to hold power accountable.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.