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  Publicity Stills of
"Climber's High"
(Courtesy of Cathay-Keris Films)

Director: Masato Harada
Cast: Shinichi Tsutsumi, Masato Sakai, Machiko Ono, Masahiro Takashima, Tsutomu Yamazaki
RunTime: 2 hrs 25 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://festivefilms.com/climbershigh/

Opening Day: 26 March 2009


On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines Flight 123, crashed into the ridge of Mt Takamagahara, on Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture.

524 passengers turned to 4 survivors and 520 fatalities, making the accident the biggest single-plane accident in the world.

A roving reporter working for North Kanto newspaper name Kazumasa Yuki (starring Shinichi Tsutsumi) was preparing to climb Mt. Tanigawa with a colleague when the news of the crash got out.

In the ensuing excitement and chaos in the newsroom, Yuki is given the go-ahead to cover the story and receives tremendous pressure to beat out competing news organizations to the first with the scoop.

Not to be mistaken for a typical disaster flick, Climber's High takes a more respectful approach, and much of the films centers around Yuuki's difficulty balancing his duty as a reporter against the backdrop of such a staggering human tragedy and the subsequent conflicts with colleagues as he tries to deal with the event in the most journalistically responsible way possible.

Based on Hideo Yokoyama's best-selling novel, the film looks at the impact the country's worst airplane disaster had on a local newspaper as shock, excitement and chaos swirled around. What are news and a reporter? How should a man do his work and survive in a corporate hierarchy? What do family and friends mean to him? Climber's High is an intriguing story that will keep the audience on the edge of tension and reality.

Movie Review:

It’s not often you get a film about the microcosm of chaos that goes on inside a newsroom- much less one that deals with what happens when a major disaster strikes just before it’s time to ‘off stone’ the paper. But former reporter Kazumasa Yuuki was at the centre of it all at the North Kanto Times in 1985.

One fateful night that year, Japan Airlines (JAL) Flight 123 crashed into Mt Takamagahara in the Gunma Prefecture, claiming a total of 520 lives. Then a zealous newsman, Yuuki was assigned to the head of the JAL desk, coordinating the work of the field reporters as well as the overall coverage of the disaster in the paper.

“Climbers High” is his story- the movie based on the book by the man himself. The best thing about writer/director Masato Harada’s adaptation is how he manages to recreate the tension within the newsroom and the pressure Yuuki faced at the heart of the maelstrom. We observe his determination to use first-hand reports from the paper’s own field correspondents instead of rewriting copies from the wire. We also witness his indignation when other more senior editors decide to abandon reporting the hard facts of the case in favour of the human sentiments of the victim’s families.

Unlike some of his fellow colleagues, Yuuki was a man of journalistic ethics, preferring investigative reporting to (well) different forms of lazy reporting, and sticking to his mantra of “check, double check” the facts instead of running on speculation. And especially in the face of disaster when rumours are rife and conjectures run wild, it’s a challenge to stick to one’s strict principles of journalism.

Yes, director Masato Harada brings to light the choices and sometimes painful decisions that newspeople face at their workplace, all in the spirit of satisfying the appetite of their readers for the most up-to-date news daily. But Yuuki’s predicament is magnified by the fact that he was also constrained by the competitive pressures of his own small local paper which was up against the much bigger national news dailies.

Lest one forgets, newspapers are also commercial enterprises, and they have their bottom lines to take care of. And indeed, one can only begin to imagine how daunting Yuuki’s undertaking must be, in many ways as complex and arduous. But it is also precisely in portraying how multifaceted this responsibility was that this movie falters. While the book may have the luxury to dwell more deeply into its varied themes, the film does a poorer job in fleshing them out because there are just too many for it to juggle.

Hence where “Climbers High” could have been an incisive reflection on journalistic ethics and practices through the lens of one uncompromising reporter, it becomes more of a recount of what happened in the newsroom of the North Kanto Times. As a result, the story loses some of its poignancy that it should necessarily have commanded.

Still, the movie is boosted by fine performances from its cast. Shinichi Tsutsumi is a most charismatic actor and his presence alone on screen is a riveting sight to watch. The fact that one can scarcely recognize him as the eccentric brilliant Maths professor Ishigami from Suspect X just barely a month ago shows how effortlessly he disappears into each one of his roles. Credit must also go to Tsutomu Yamazaki (from Departures) in a small, but unforgettable supporting role as the peculiar owner of the North Kanto Times.

“Climbers High” then could have done well by taking a leaf from one of the first things they teach you in journalism school- less is sometimes more. Truly, because it tries to pack too many things in one, it is weighed down by its own excess baggage and at the end never manages to reach the height it could have scaled.

Movie Rating:

(Though admirable in its ambition, it tries to pack too much in and winds up being less compelling than it could have been)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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