Author Takeshi Shiota’s titular 2016 novel is brought to life on the big screen in director Daihachi Yoshida’s new film, Kiba: The Fangs Of Fiction, entailing a story of internal scheming and struggle for a major print publishing giant in the wake of economic struggle in the digital era, and a corporate power vacuum ensued by sudden tragedy.
It’s 2019, and the death of long-heralded golden age publisher Kunpu’s patriarch, Kinosuke Iba, is the latest addition to the pressure the company now faces in its efforts to get out of the red. Just then, savvy and smooth-talking magazine executive, Teruya Hayami (Yo Oizumi), makes his entrance to take the wheel of Kunpu’s culture imprint, Trinity, though his welcome is not without provocation by Kunpu’s newly installed CEO, Tomatsu (Koichi Sato), who decides to reintroduce Kunpu’s monthly output as a quarterly instead.
Furthermore, it appears Tomatsu has other plans of his own that may otherwise drive Trinity into further uncertainty. Alas, the work begins as Hayami gives his team, including aspiring editor, Kunpu’s recently-demoted Megumi Takano (Mayu Matsuoka) carte blanche to begin sifting through some of Kunpu’s current and previous crop of writers to contribute to Trinity’s fruition, with Hayami seeking his own prospects: Hot celebrity writer Hijiri Yashiro (Hio Miyazawa) and model Saki Jojima (Elaiza Ikeda).
Megumi, trailing behind Hayami’s own cutthroat momentum after secretly plotting to launch one of her manuscripts, decides to investigate a discovery all her own: A writer who apparently had been neither seen nor heard from in twenty years after having his work published for Kunpu. Just when all seems to be going well however, controversy strikes and Hayami is forced to make a choice that further envelopes the corporate dissent between Tomatsu, and Kunpu’s managing director, Kazuo Kudo (Shiro Sano). As a result, major falling-outs ensue within Hayami’s own magazine, but there’s much more in play than even Megumi realizes.
I haven’t read the original book, and so speaking only as a film critic, I can certainly say that Oizumi does fantastic in the role intended for him by way of the book’s author. There are scenes when Hayami jumps right into his element as the film’s soundtrack performed by LITE, bounces off Hayami’s scenes with a jazzy vigor to add to the comedy some. This only happens in a few scenes though, mainly with Hayami opposite the role of venerable 40-year veteran author, Daisaku Nikaido (Jun Kunimura).
Almost everyone knows who Hayami is when he walks in the room, if only for the fact that when he does, you’ll either hate him secretly while listening to what he has to say, or hate him completely. It’s especially interesting at times to see how one of Kunpu’s seniors and Meguki’s former boss, Yuriko Enami (Yoshino Kimura) often toggles between the two, particularly in one scene when Hayami manages to finagle his way into allowing Megumi to inject her thoughts on one of Nikaido’s novels.
There’s an explosive element to the film’s story that keeps you watching – a lot of which has to do with seeing how a decades-old publisher struggles to acclimate to changing times against the backdrop of business as usual corporate politics. The difference is pretty oblique and quite vivid, and in some ways, is an eye-opener while watching and observing our characters do what they do, including a mysterious character played by celebrated actor Lily Franky, in addition to actor/filmmaker and Japan Cuts fave, Shinya Tsukamoto, who plays aging book store owner and Megumi’s father, Takano.
There’s a dark horse in this story riding it out through all the upheaval, which promises to be a pretty engrossing reveal when paired up with the main arc. It all encompasses the riveting and compelling pacing of watching stories involving journalism and writing unfold – the impact that words have, particularly amid the toils of physical print media. Stephen Spielberg’s The Post and Ron Howard’s Frost V. Nixon come to mind. Friend and contributor Christina could probably write for days about this sort of thing being the writer and aspiring author that she herself is.
Kiba: The Fangs Of Fiction is a bustling tale with interesting and fun characters, all headlining a story that confronts the light and frothy, and even the dark and gloomy, and certainly brutal aspects of writing, journalism and the perks and sacrifices that comes with being a celebrity in any medium. And not for nothing either, it also underscores the significance of following your own intuition when simply climbing the ladder isn’t enough.
Dark horse, people!
Kiba: The Fangs Of Fiction is screening for the 2021 hybrid installment of Japan Cuts which runs from August 20 through September 2.