Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Climber's High (Kuraimâzu Hai / クライマーズ・ハイ)

No I Did Not Order a Pizza

The title's misleading enough to signal thoughts of mountain climbing to figure in this film. Yes it does a bit, but probably came across stronger as an analogy running alongside the main crux of the story, that being set against the historical backdrop and event of Japan's, and the world's worst single-aircraft aviation disaster where more than 500 passengers perished from JAL flight 123 that crashed into a mountainside.

If I could but name another film that bears similar themes and share the same setting, that will be Ron Howard's The Paper, which I had enjoyed tremendously, so there's a tinge of biasness here when I learnt that a bustling newsroom would be where the action will primarily take place. Here, Shin'ichi Tsutsumi (last seen as the genius mathematics professor in Suspect X) plays Yuuki, a journalist assigned to take over the JAL desk to organize and head the fact finding operation to fuel headlines for the local paper Kitakanto Shimbun.

Things of course are never smooth sailing, and I suppose those working in a newsroom will be able to attest to similar happenings on a day in day out basis, amplified when there's a major man made or natural disaster to deal with and report on. And I can identify with his having to junk readymade plans when emergencies occur, and for him it's the postponement of a climb with good friend Anzai (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), who also provides a separate thread about doing what you enjoy, and an emotional, personal issue for Yuuki to grapple with, other than that of his non-existent relationship with an estranged son whom he has not met for years.

When the film moves on full throttle, it doesn't leave you much room to take a breather except during the flash-forward scenes, which parallels the mood that Yuuki goes through during a current climb of The Partition. But as mentioned, the newsroom is where the thick of the action is, where we witness how Kiki has to navigate and do battle with jealous and envious rivals from within, keeping his faith and fighting for his staff's recognition of the hard work and long hours put in, battling unscrupulous, selfish editors who only relish in getting in his way, tussling with the upper echelons of management and those at the lower end of the supply chain responsible for circulation and distribution, and just about every office political situation you can think of, it's here.

Just like how a climber attempts to scale a mountain with confidence, belief, and support, tackling the reporting of this momentous situation calls on Yuuki's utilization of his smarts, making the best of the team he has on his side to deliver what's best. Climber's high runs parallel to that of his journalistic instincts, where he's after the scoop after being scooped upon, and how it's like fighting unexpected elements all round. The mantra of being prepared rings right through here, and this film has plenty of everyting thrown around and about, that your attention gets delightfully scattered just as if you were put right into the thick of the action yourself. The cinematography helps too, weaving you in and out of the press room as you follow the action being offered a first person view.

If there's a complaint, it would be a minor one involving the flitting of timelines to and from the present, but that's thankfully at the beginning, before it gets firmly rooted in the past, recounting the events following that aviation disaster. That I suppose is the purpose basing it on the book by Hideo Yokohama, who was a real journalist at the time at the Jomo Shimbun. As it's in the 80s, you can't help but feel a little nostalgic, not only at the fashion, but at the things we take for granted today's communications technology, compared to just some 20 years ago without the prevalence of computers, mobile phones and all associated technology feeding off the ubiquitous Internet.

The Climbers High is an fantastic film with an equally excellent cast who don't draw too much attention to themselves, nor are self-conscious in delivering a hydra of a storyline which just feeds off the buzz in a press room setting, allowing us a glimpse of how events of such magnitude get handled, and also how relationships get forged or reforged in trying times. Highly recommended, and this goes into my shortlist too as a contender for top films of the year!

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