An obvious upside of the TV streaming revolution has been that these days we get to see the very best that global television has to offer. Whether it be a high-concept South Korean drama such as Squid Game or a French detective caper such as Lupin, we’re embarrassed with subtitled riches.
But a corollary of this race to the top is that standards have never been higher. It takes something special, unusual or just ripe for the moment (see Tiger King) to cut through. The Journalist (Netflix), a Japanese reboot of a 2019 film is unfortunately, none of the above.
It’s a shame because there’s a lot to like about the show. Ryoko Yonekura is superb as the titular bloodhound Anna Matsuda, sniffing a government cover-up as deep-rooted as knotweed and never letting go for the six-episode run. There’s lots to like, too, about The Journalist’s Tokyo, which looks dank and sultry through cinematographer Keisuke Imamura’s lens. And if it’s timely you want then there are few subjects more newsworthy than news itself – who feeds the public what information and for what purpose; who keeps what records and who controls access.
But as much as this journalist is delighted by a story of a journalist as tenacious maverick speaking truth to power and generally bossing it, this is still the same story we’ve seen many times before, from All the President’s Men via the BBC’s State of Play through to HBO’s The Newsroom and on to Netflix’s own 2019 documentary The Great Hack.
From the wall of scrawled Post-It notes to the press conferences and the quirky cub reporter, no trope is left unturned. The plot here is to do with government backhanders for a school contract and it goes right to the top. While this is precisely the kind of thing you can believe goes on, the paper trail is also a path straight to some of the dullest scenes imaginable – bleary-eyed journalist scrolling through pages of documents, falling asleep at the desk and so on.