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‘Scoop!’: Read all about it here

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Japanese weekly scandal magazines are pond scum, are they not? Dishing up grainy paparazzi photos of the famous and powerful, accompanied by wink-wink stories about improprieties and crimes — alleged or exposed — they appeal to the lowest common denominator, with their only raison d’etre being sales figures. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they all vanished from the face of the Earth?

But as Hitoshi One shows in “Scoop!,” his delightfully scabrous comedy about one such fictional rag, the weeklies can expose truths that their hypocritical subjects — presenting a pure, upright public image that their low-down private words and actions belie — would do anything to hide. These are truths the mainstream media, anxious to avoid offending sources and rocking the institutional boat, too often suppress or ignore.

This is One’s third feature, and third set in the media industry, following “Love Strikes!” (“Moteki,” 2011) and “Bakuman”(2015). In all the films, he uses scuffling heroes as productive sources of laughs, but never treats them as two-dimensional cartoons. Instead, he reveals their flaws for maximum comic and dramatic effect, sometimes in the same perfectly crafted scene.

Scoop!
Rating
Run Time 120 mins
Language Japanese

Based on a 1985 made-for-TV movie by Masato Harada — well-remembered by One, if forgotten by nearly everyone else — “Scoop!” focuses on Shizuka Miyakonojo (Masaharu Fukuyama). Once an up-and-coming news photographer Shizuka has, in middle age, sunk to the paparazzi depths. He works for “Scoop!,” a publication whose bread and butter are photos of celebs in flagrante delicto and busty gravure idols (pin-up girls). To help him supply the former, hard-nosed editor Sadako Yokogawa (Yo Yoshida) saddles him with Nobi Namekawa (Fumi Nikaido), a naive new hire.

Unsurprisingly, Shizuka and Nobi are an oil-and-water combo, with the tender-minded Nobi recoiling from her slovenly, profane senior, whose behavior (like that of other male employees of “Scoop!”) would have him facing sexual harassment charges at a more enlightened company. But as Shizuka tracks his quarry with the aid of a dissolute tipster pal (Lily Franky), Nobi finds herself, against all her better instincts, enjoying the chase and bagging the game. Even more inexplicably, she starts to feel attracted to this debauched (if still good-looking) guy whose journalistic ideals seemingly died with the last millennium.

A pop star and actor who is a prime paparazzi target himself, Fukuyama is all but unrecognizable as Shizuka, whcih is to the film’s advantage. As Nobi, Nikaido initially plays Shizuka’s comic foil in everything from her lip-curling disgust at his latest outrage to her frantic escapes from his infuriated victims. I knew that Nikaido could be funny (see her as a spoiled gangster’s daughter in Sion Sono’s 2013 “Why Don’t You Play in Hell” for proof), but not this funny, throwing herself into gags with a sort of inspired abandon that is nonetheless perfectly timed and executed.

As the film shifts into a more serious groove, with Nobi and Shizuka facing stiffer tests of their professional resolve and personal values, their camaraderie, we see, is built on more than jokes and is motivated by more than plot considerations. The surprise climax, for which One has laid the groundwork with his usual ingenuity and precision, hits harder than expected considering the laugh-on-the-beat opening scenes.

One’s insistence on realism, from Shizuka’s professional tricks to the casting of actual weekly mag staffers in bit roles, is one reason for this. Another is his pairing of Fukuyama and Nikaido, whose comic chemistry stirred up memories of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell quarreling as a cynical editor and a fed-up former wife and star reporter in “His Girl Friday”(1940). I am trying and, for the moment failing, to come up with a local, more recent example of similar quality.

“Scoop!” is the most entertaining film I’ve seen all year — and yes, dear media friends, you can quote me.