'Scoop!': Film Review
Masaharu Fukuyama and Fumi Nikaidou headline as a photographer and writer at a bottom-feeding gossip rag looking for respectability.
In an age of public lives and ubiquitous cameras ready to capture every moment of them, writer-director Hitoshi One’s Scoop! may not be terribly original, but it is an engaging and resonant low-key drama about an aging paparazzo trying to reinvent himself and stay relevant as his skill set becomes obsolete. Based on Masato Harada’s 1985 feature, Out of Focus, Scoop! manages to balance the crude humor of its main character, a larger story about a shifting media landscape and elements of a thriller.
One, who had a popular hit in 2015 with the youthful romance Bakuman — also set in the publishing world — somehow makes circulation numbers kind of exciting while tackling media ethics, workplace politics and the deterioration of journalistic standards, but never getting too heavy about any of it. Japan’s gossip weekly industry is ripe for the cinematic treatment and given the media climate worldwide, Scoop! could find audiences overseas who also recognize the more offensive elements of the job. The film should be a fit for the festival circuit outside of Asia, and could easily find moderate success in the region, where mags like the one at the heart of the story are so common.
The story starts with naïve, overwhelmed rookie reporter Nobi Namekawa (Fumi Nikaidou, Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell) arriving at her new job at Scoop, a once-respectable news magazine that’s fallen victim to tabloid culture and turned into a “broad lifestyle rag.” Think a more polished Enquirer but somehow more gleefully trashy. Co-editor Sadako (television staple Yoh Yoshida) pairs her up with the crude, sexist, abusive, burnout photographer Shizuka Miyakonojo (Masaharu Fukuyama, last seen in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son), and naturally it’s oil and water. The pair begins their fraught working relationship by trying to catch a star baseball player in a compromising position, and then targets a prominent politician in an attempt knock him off his pedestal. As it lays its groundwork, Scoop! plays as an amusing look at the lengths and depths paparazzi will sink to in order to get their humiliating shots. Initially disgusted by the utter lack of ethics on display, Nobi learns to love the thrill of the chase and the final payoff. In turn, Shizuka and Nobi’s publishers learn to love the increase in circulation — as long as their titillating stories don’t create any friction with other sources, sponsors or other so-called "friends" of the magazine.
A rock star by day, Fukuyama, not surprisingly, brings the right kind of rock-star swagger to Shizuka and keeps him eminently watchable, even when he teeters dangerously close to pond-scum territory. He maintains the mystery long enough for One to finally get underneath the gruff surface and add some desperately needed humanizing layers. Shizuka was inspired by war photographer Robert Capa, and shares a complicated history with a disturbed former colleague, Chara (Lily Franky, After the Storm). The nature of their friendship is hinted at but never fully explained, which ultimately proves to be a smart creative choice. The finer details are unnecessary, as Fukuyama and Franky make their bond clear without needless exposition, and the tragic end (that’s no spoiler) all the sadder.
After setting up all the pieces, Scoop! heads into thriller mode, where Shizuka and Nobi chase a story about a high-profile juvenile murderer, and get help from the magazine’s less ethically compromised second editor, Baba (Kenichi Takitoh, TerraFormars). In the final act, One pulls all the parts together for a conclusion that’s no less effective for seeing it coming.
Scoop! is a refreshing change of pace from most Japanese workplace dramas in location — it’s not an anonymous office — and the distinct milieu gives the characters some welcome context. Though Nobi starts out a little too broad and a little too innocent, Nikaidou finds enough meat on Nobi’s bones to give her a personality. One’s direction is utilitarian, but cinematographer Gen Kobayashi makes the most of Tokyo’s nightscape to give Shizuka and Nobi’s work a vaguely dangerous sheen, and a modern score by Hiroshi Kawanabe sets the tone from minute one.
If there’s a serious misstep in Scoop!, it’s in the shoehorned, yet somehow inevitable, romance that blossoms between the green Nobi and the coarse Shizuka. The film’s finale and the pair’s relationship would have had just as much bittersweet impact had they not gone down the couple road (the love scene is hilariously, and irritatingly, bathed in clichéd sunlight and soft focus). In fact, rooting Scoop!’s coda in a mutually respectful, affectionate, adult relationship instead of a sexual one was a missed opportunity.
Production companies: TV Asahi, Amuse, Toho, Office Crescendo, Gunpowder
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Fumi Nikaidou, Yoh Yoshida, Kenichi Takitoh, Lily Franky, Takumi Saitoh, Shinya Tsukamoto, Ikuji Nakamura
Director: Hitoshi One
Screenwriter: Hitoshi One, based on the film Out of Focus by Masato Harada
Producer: Momoko Kawakita, Yashuhiro Masaoka, Ryuji Ichiyama
Executive producer: Minami Ichikawa, Nobuhito Nagasaka, Masaya Nakagawa
Director of photography: Gen Kobayashi
Production designer: Wataru Hirai
Editor: Yasuyuki Ozeki
Music: Hiroshi Kawanabe
Casting: Yoshiko Arae
World sales: Toho