Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction was the first movie of the 2022 Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme we watched. For those not familiar with the Japan Foundation TFP, they organise an annual Japanese film festival across the UK. Each year since 2004, the Japan Foundation TFP chooses a carefully created theme to showcase Japanese films that they believe are worth showing. For 2022, the theme is “What Lies Beneath” as all the movies included explore the depth of the human mind.
One thing you can certainly say about the Japan Foundation TFP is it really brings the Japanese community together. The ICA is a unique place by itself, but it was certainly even more special on Friday 4th for the UK premiere of Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction. The theatre audience was full of Japanese expats, Japanese heritage, Japan-expats, Japanese students, and Japanese movie lovers. It would not be an exaggeration to say everyone was on the same wavelength, and the whole room erupted with laughter on multiple occasions as the jokes landed. What a wonderful experience it was and what a great pick for the first film for the London leg of the programme.
Background to Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction (No spoliers)
First, who stars in the film? The ensemble cast is full of well known names in Japan, like Yo Oizumi (also in Asakusa Kid on Netflix), Mayu Matsuoka, Koichi Sato and heartthrob Hio Miyazawa. Each of them bring their characters to life and makes the movie highly entertaining to watch.
Kiba is an adaptation of Takeshi Shiota’s novel, which takes a look behind the curtain of the publishing world in Japan. As in real life, the industry is in decline with fewer people reading magazines. The plot covers a power struggle at publishing powerhouse Kunpu and how the quick-thinking magazine editors there keep it afloat.
Although it sounds like it could be dry or dark, Daihachi Yoshida does a stellar job directing the movie. By adding in just the right amount of comedy and fast-paced energy, he makes Kiba highly approachable. The soundtrack is also excellent with almost danceable guitars, bass, and drums. What is front and center however are the rival magazine editors constantly plotting and trying to outdo the other. Twist follows twist and although Trinity editor Hayami (played by Yo Oizumi) always seems one step ahead, we are kept on our toes right to the end.
Kiba: A must-see Japanese movie
There are many reasons to recommend Kiba. Perhaps number one could be that you can enjoy all those familiar Japanese scenes. You know the ones you might be missing or maybe want to see? We’re talking about the immaculate taxis with white lace seat covers, rule-abiding drivers, and automatic closing doors. Then there are the nostalgic stand-up drinking bars, and also the schoolkids reading comics in bookstores.
Another reason is you can see Japanese office life and work attitudes. Kiba covers the conflict between protecting veteran “Sensei” novelists and traditional formats versus the need for innovation. While Kiba is set in the publishing world, this kind of conflict is also present in other Japanese industries.
Talking about change. The board room of directors were noticeably all male and the power struggles were between the male heads of department. However, when it came to questioning industry norms and truly understanding readers and long-term strategy, it’s the female characters who seemed to know best.
In case this all sounds serious, we should highlight this is a movie with tons of funny scenes which is great to watch in a cinema. The wine scene in particular got huge laughs. We can’t give away what happens but it’s again related to how the “Sensei” unquestionably knows what is best.
When Kiba finished, there was a round of clapping in the cinema which we believed it thoroughly deserved. Whether this is the first Japanese movie you watch (English subtitles so don’t worry) or whether you’re a movie buff, we can’t recommend Kiba enough.
The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme is running at cinemas across the UK and Ireland until March 31st. If you are looking for more Japanese movie reviews, please feel free to check our Japanese culture page.