Unabashedly singing and dancing to Gloria Gaynor’s 1970’s hit “I Will Survive” after her Sundance premiere, journalist and filmmaker Shiori Ito seems anything but sad — despite her emotional story. Following her own case of sexual assault from 2015, Ito’s documentary “Black Box Diaries” covers her personal and journalistic journey in Japan as she tries to prosecute her high-profile rapist.
“Black Box Diaries” is as socially important as it is poignant. After two years of not getting anywhere with her case, Ito decided in 2017 to start documenting her experience through personal diaries, video and audio recordings and even her own book of the same title.
Now in 2024 with the debut of her film, her experiences can be understood in their entirety. Furthermore, Ito’s story can prompt intense reactions and rich discussions. With films like these, audience reactions are just as important as the content itself. After the screening, sexual assault survivors and journalists alike spoke during a Q&A to tell Shirio the importance and impact of her work.
A woman in the back row stood up and opened up to Ito about how she'd been through a similar situation of getting stuck in “black boxes.” The term black box refers to a legal area in which a case can get stuck due to a lack of evidence. The tears and passion that were produced in just one screening alone are enough to emphasize how important and powerful Itoi’s storytelling is.
As reported by The Japan Times, Ito’s work has made waves in Japan’s legal system. She continues to sue for defamation after her momentous court case in 2019 at the Tokyo District Court where she was given 3.3 million yen in damages from her alleged rapist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi. While no arrest has been made, her continued victories in court make the “#MeToo” movement a more dominant narrative in Japan.
The struggle of being a journalist while covering your own case is also an important theme of the documentary. Feeling as though she had been a “third party” in her own case, Ito explains how she distanced herself by externalizing her trauma onto her work instead of directly healing. She faces a major realization that she is still immensely hurt even with her investigation. Ito raises an interesting conundrum in the world of journalism and ethics as she reports her own experiences as a journalist.
The documentary relays the story as if no one could have properly reported the story other than Ito, which is exactly what makes the storytelling so strong. While traditional journalism requires a journalist to be distanced from one’s reporting, Ito challenges and struggles with being the subject of her reporting and life's work.
In a seamless association with Ito’s reporting, the editing by Ema Ryan Yamazaki beautifully accompanies the story. Especially the addition of written passages from Ito’s diary that appear on screen to signify new themes. The film takes more of a fly on the wall point of view as the audience watches Ito as if we were in the room with her.
Between clips of legal meetings, tense phone calls, and personal video diaries, shots of blooming cherry blossoms break the film up, allowing the audience for a moment of respite to reflect. Cherry blossoms are the key visual besides Ito herself, as they represent the story’s timeline.
The film ends with Ito dancing and singing to “I Will Survive” in a taxi, the song being featured multiple times in the film as a symbol of perseverance. The song is yet another way that connects the audience with Ito and her story. By the end of the film, you feel as if you’ve been through it all by Ito’s side.
“Black Box Diaries” has made the incredible achievement of being both a moving piece of storytelling while also being able to change the world. Ito’s personal (and at times comical), yet intense investigative take makes for a fantastic, powerful documentary.