Japanese films have been celebrating the salaryman for decades now, sometimes comically and sometimes dramatically, with the blue-suited heroes framed as latter-day samurai, grimly fighting their battles in the boardroom.
However, in “Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction,” Daihaichi Yoshida’s brainy drama of intrigue set in the publishing world, the loyal, self-sacrificing corporate warriors of stereotype are gone, replaced by hard-nosed turf fighters and savvy ladder climbers ultimately out for No. 1.
The film is not an exercise in cynicism, though. Its plot, which revolves around the fate of two print publications, and its shoutouts to the brick-and-mortar bookstore may strike those used to consuming books and magazine articles in an endless stream of online content as retro — or irrelevant.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||113 mins.|
Yoshida, who co-wrote the script, is no nostalgist, however. As in his previous films, including his 2012 breakout “The Kirishima Thing,” he views his principals with the merciless eye of a caricaturist while presenting them in the round, mixing the good in with the bad.
And his critique of the publishing business is grounded in reality, though his hero, Akira Hayami (Yo Oizumi), is a nervy type who makes the job of editing magazines seem like a risky, romantic adventure. Not quite like breaking the bank at Monte Carlo, but close enough.
Akira is a mid-career hire at Kunpu, a big publishing house enveloped in a power struggle following the death of its elderly, all-powerful president. Assigned as editor-in-chief of Trinity, a culture magazine that is circling the drain, Akira promptly upends its “play it safe” editorial policy while seeking out writers who will cause a stir.
He finds an ally in the ruthless new CEO (Koichi Sato), who has ambitious plans of his own for turning Kunpu into a major content provider and distributor. The CEO also has enemies in the snobby editors of a serious literary monthly who view him and Akira as barbarians at the gates.
Caught in the middle of this in-house feud is Megumi Takano (Mayu Matsuoka), the earnest 20-something daughter of a small bookstore owner. She starts as a staffer at the monthly, Shosetsu Kunpu, until her habit of blurting out uncomfortable truths — she tells an eminent author (Jun Kunimura) that his depictions of women are old-fashioned — gets her booted. Akira recruits her for Trinity and promptly enlists her in his plot to snag the author, who, though he’s a sexist, will sell copies.
All this and more unfold with a brisk pace and clever plotting, though the various schemes and counter schemes start to feel overly busy, as though the scriptwriters were straining to keep jittery Netflix surfers from switching off.
Oizumi plays Akira as a slick, self-assured pro quick with a comeback and two steps ahead of his foes, but essentially shallow. Meanwhile, as Megumi, Matsuoka exudes a quirky charm and warmth that look uncalculated, but turn out to be facets in a finely layered jewel of a performance.
Megumi, we see, is more than just a diligent bookworm willing to spend her days and nights piecing together a literary puzzle from dusty manuscripts. She is also a quick study who learns from the experts in corporate gamesmanship around her, Akira first and foremost. The lessons she draws are this strenuously entertaining film’s best surprise.
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