Review: ‘[Focus]’

Unusual vid-format effort blurs the line between media parody and real exploitation by making actors --- and viewers --- complicit in corruption of real-life events for the sake of sensation. "[Focus]" takes recent yarase, or faked-news scandals, as a Tokyo-based departure point, with high-tech voyeurism and loss of privacy tackled as well. Although it will mainly appeal to industry types, some offshore web and college-circuit playoff would be natural. The brackets in the title refer to the editing process, which can easily turn the most innocuous material into something wicked. In this case --- a short movie presented entirely as raw video footage, and created in-camera by the onscreen lenser --- it's not so innocent to start with. Story begins with tabloid-TV newsman Iwai (Akira Shirai, himself a Nippon tube vet) taping a piece on a shy young man's habit of listening in on other people's cell-phone conversations. Trouble is, lank-haired Kanemura ("Maborosi's" Tadanobu Asano) is a vague, inarticulate dreamer who keeps resisting Iwai's attempts to draw him into hype mode. So when they happen to overhear gangsters talking about a gun stashed at a locker in Shinjuku Station, the ego-driven "journalist" decides to milk that angle, with predictably disastrous results.

Helmer Satoshi Isaka makes some sharp, deadpan observations about media corruption and alienation in supposedly conformist Japan, but he loses control of the material. He ultimately misses some choice satirical opportunities, and when Kanemura suddenly grabs the gun and forces Iwai’s female assistant (Keiko Unno) to strip, the helmer appears to be grabbing for the same sleazy effect he is decrying.

Tech credits are appropriate to the subject, and pic’s blackly comic mood is aided by electro music. Despite a few blurry bits, “[Focus]” zooms in on some thorny issues now common to all over-wired societies.




An Ace Pictures (Tokyo) production. Produced by Junji Akai, Nobutsugu Tsubomi. Executive producers, Masato Hara, Kazuo Kuori. Directed by Satoshi Isaka. Screenplay, Kazuo Shin.


Camera (video), Tetsuro Sano; music, Hiroshi Mizuide; sound, Yoshitaka Imai. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 16, 1996. (Also in Berlin fest --- Forum.) Running time: 73 MIN.


Tadanobu Asano, Akira Shirai, Keiko Unno, Tetsuro Sano.
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