Yujiro Harumoto

7.3 A Balance (2020)

Yujiro Harumoto (Japan, 1978) debuted with Kazoku E/ Going the Distance (2016)

The 152-minute Yuko no Tenbin/ A Balance (2020), photographed by Kenji Noguchi, is a slow but painstaking multi-layered character analysis. The film paints a picture of a society of hypocrites, rapists, liars, prostitutes and unscrupulous careerists, a society in which there seems to be a lot more perpetrators than victims. The plot is a convoluted tragedy of betrayal worthy of ancient Greece. At one level the film is about the pernicious influence of the media. The protagonist is a media person: while she is investigating a scandal invented by the media, which resulted in the suicide of two people, she is the "media" who has to report a real scandal involving her father. At another level the plot highlights something fundamental about human nature. The protagonist empathizes a lot more with the victims of the families after her own life is threatened by the same kind of scandal. The TV journalist pretends that she has a girl’s best interests at heart until that interest doesn't collide with her own; and so the film is also a meditation on how far empathy and kindness can go when they collide with one's ambitions. The handheld camera makes the emotions more real. The melodramatic ending is redeemed by a long steady shot that allows us to witness that the woman is not dead.

Young female documentarian Yuko is preparing a documentary-investigation for a television channel over a double suicide that took place at a school. She interviews the father of the girl, Hiromi, and the man ends the interview blaming the media for the tragedy. The father narrates how the girl was accused of lewd behavior at school, bullied, expelled, and then killed herself. The teacher suspected of being her lover, Kazuyuki, killed himself too, leaving a suicide note in which he denied having a sexual relationship with the girl. The media created the atmosphere that led to the tragedy. However, when Yuko shows the footage to her producer, he doesn't like the idea of media criticizing media, of them criticizing the competition. In the evening Yuko helps her father, who runs a private tutoring business, a “cram school”. Yuko continues her investigation by interviewing the teacher's mother, who says her son felt framed by the school. When Yuko tries to visit the home of the teacher, she is attacked by a neighbor who blames the media. The teacher's mother tells Yuko that she has changed home many times but someone always find out where she lives and posts it on the Internet. She is scared to go out. She is worried for her daughter Shiho, the teacher's sister. They have all been persecuted by the public. She too blames the media. At school Yuko catches a girl cheating, Mei. Her father tells Yuko that Mei's mother died. The following day Mei is sick and the other students assume she is having her period. Yuko drives her home. Mei confesses that she is two-month pregnant. The father is... Yuko's father. He offered to waive Mei's tuition fees in exchange for sex. So we also learn that Mei's father is not supporting Mei financially. Mei cries and asks Yuko for help. Back home, she pulls out her smartphone and starts filming her fathers as she shows her the pregnancy test, thus documenting his confession. He sounds truly sorry and swears it only happened once. He is 40 years older than the teenager Mei. Her daughter coldly states that the scandal will ruin him. Yuko approaches a doctor about getting an abortion for the abused girl and blames the incident on the girl's father, so she lies to protect her father. The doctor accepts to get her an illegal drug that causes a miscarriage, so the abortion will remain a secret. Yuko starts buying and cooking food for Mei, like a mom. Yuko resumes her documentary. She visits Hiromi's father at his bakery. He keeps baking every day but nobody buys anymore. The scandal destroyed his business. Yuko creates a bridge between the two persecuted families by bringing some of the freshly baked buns to Kazuyuki's mother: they were Kazuyuki's favorites. While Yuko is out, Mei's father brings money to Yuko's father to pay for all the bills that Yuko has paid for Mei. Yuko's father would like to come clean with Mei's father but Yuko reminds him that this will destroy their lives and Mei's life. Not because of the law but because of the media attention and the public persecution. Mai's father is a humble construction worker. One day Yuko's father runs into him. Mei's father thinks that Mei is still taking classes. In reality, Yuko is tutoring her at home. For free. Yuko takes Mei to see the doctor and the doctor diagnoses a life-threatening problem. Meanwhile, Kazuyuki's sister Shiho accepts an interview. Shiho has a daughter who is already being bullied by schoolmates. Yuko entertains the little girl and then plays cards with mom and daughter. Her documentary is complete. The producers like it. Yuko's collaborators on the project are ecstatic. But Yuko has a problem: her father wants to confess to Mei's father, which could result in a scandal, which could result in Yuko's documentary being canceled before anybody can see it. Yuko talks her father into waiting until the documentary airs. However, a decision must be made about Mei as soon as possible: postponing could endanger her life. Yuko is kind to Mei, behaving like a mother, a tutor and a best friend to her, but at the same time doesn't want to compromise the documentary she worked so hard to make. Yuko witnesses that Mei's father is not the deadbeat father that Mei described: he's just a hard-working man who is struggling financially. Another plot twist changes Yuko's perception of Mei. Yuko notices a boy who seems to be stalking Mei and eventually catches him. The boy says that he slept with Mei just like many other boys: Mei is a loose girl who does it for cash and a congenital liar. Just then Shiho shows up in tears and provides Yuko with evidence that her brother the teacher did indeed rape his student Hiromi. Shiho confesses that she wrote her brother's suicide note, hoping that it would stop the attacks against her family. Yuko is dumbfounded. She decides to withdraw the documentary, given that it doesn't tell the truth. The partner who worked with her on it argues against it, claiming that whatever the documentary says "is" the truth. Yuko then confronts Mei and asks her who the father of her baby really is. Mai runs away and gets run over by a car. At the hospital her father, desperate, finds out that Mei was pregnant. He admits to Yuko that he suspected Mei was prostituting herself. Mei's father now looks like a good man who lives only for his daughter and is devastated that is daughter is such a mess: he is the one and only victim. Yuko stares at the unconscious Mei, presumably wondering what the truth is about the girl. Yuko then tells Mei's father that it was her father who got Mei pregnant. Furious of having been lied to all along, Mei's father almost kills her and then leaves her unconscious in the street. Yuko struggles to get up.

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