The internet was once hailed as the “information super highway”; information would travel across vast distances at incredible speeds allowing people to have more access to more types of information than they ever had before. Today, however, the internet more closely resembles a battleground than a highway, with information becoming the barbs and arrows of the media and its consumers. It is becoming more difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. “Fake News” has probably come to be the defining phrase of 2017 and perhaps beyond. Director Ogata Takaomi was aware of the way the mass media was beginning to trade away its obligation to provide objective information for the sake of profitability and audience size long ago. His latest movie, The Hungry Lion throws into relief how the proliferation of convenient means to record and disseminate information across the vastness of the internet is not only turning us into prey, but potential predators as well thanks to a mass media that is packaging information for ready consumption by a hungry public.
One morning, 18-year-old Hitomi’s homeroom teacher is taken into custody by the police on suspicion of indecency with an underaged minor. The teacher’s sexual videos are leaked to the public and gossip begins to spread throughout the school the minor in the teacher’s videos is Hitomi. Knowing the gossip to be baseless, Hitomi innocently thinks things will die down quickly. However, when she is pressed for answers by her junior high school sister and her boyfriend Hiroki, she starts to become worried. Believing in the rumors, Hiroki becomes convinced of Hitomi’s infidelity and uploads an explicit video of them on the internet. As a result, the males around Hitomi begin viewing her as a sexual object. With neither friends, teachers, or even family believing in her, Hitomi decides to take her own life. The arrest of a teacher and the suicide of a student at the same school drive the media into a further frenzy with Hitomi and the teacher as the perfect prey for their overblown news. That information steadily spreads via the internet and hearsay creating a fictional Hitomi in the public consciousness.
The most important aspect to bear in mind about Ogata’s filmmaking is his disinterest in laying blame or demonizing any particular party. There are unknown truths and circumstances to every side driving the actions they choose to make. Any situation, no matter how outwardly sinister, is never as clear cut or easily unraveled. Getting to the truth, to paraphrase Samuel Fuller from The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera, is almost impossible unless you, yourself, are personally involved and even then, there will be times even if you know who is guilty or not guilty when a question remains. That lingering “question” is at the heart of this as well as Ogata’s past movies.
The Hungry Lion made its world premiere at the 2017 Tokyo International Film Festival’s Japan Cinema Splash section. Be sure to read my interview with Ogata here for further insight into the motivations behind his filmmaking.