Sundance 2024: BLACK BOX DIARIES

A Japanese journalist documents her fight for justice

Shiori Ito in Black Box Diaries, credit Tsutomu Harigaya.

“All I want to do is talk about the truth,” filmmaker Shiori Ito tells the camera. In her debut documentary, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival this week, Ito relates to the viewer the challenges she faced in Japan after holding a press conference in 2017. Once the Tokyo Police Department refused to press charges against her rapist, this press conference was Ito’s attempt to bring media attention to her case… especially since her alleged attacker was a fellow journalist with friends in high places.

Black Box Diaries follows Ito through several years, folding hidden recordings she made during visits with police into her larger story. Before #metoo, her story is quashed in mass media, so she publishes a book about her experience. Handwritten journal entries appear onscreen, providing a timeline as well as a sense of her feelings in the moment.

Given that this film is a work of investigative journalism, Ito is impressively open and frank with the viewer. We see the emotional and career damage she has suffered as a result of the 2015 assault. Along with chilling hotel security video footage showing her being forcibly taken out of a cab, Ito shares glimpses into her panic attacks, exhaustion, shock and other symptoms of trauma she deals with regularly.

The visuals used during the recorded audio segments lean towards the generic, using downtown or street scenes; what the film lacks in creative vision, it makes up for in its unique voice. Black Box Diaries packs an emotional wallop. Two scenes — both of them moments when Ito is surprised by unexpected support — moved this critic to tears. The investigator who has aided her confesses, “I think this case will stay with me forever,” even as he keeps his job on the police force and can’t support her publicly.

Ito’s film delves into the outdated rape law in Japan, the stigma suffered by rape survivors who report their assault, and the director’s personal campaign to attain some sense of justice despite a system working against her. Black Box Diaries makes for an intense view (Ito thoughtfully places a trigger warning for other survivors at the start), but the documentary offers a powerful and moving glimpse into one survivor’s journey.

Black Box Diaries is available to stream through Sundance online Jan. 25-Jan.29.

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