Document type
20 March 2001
Format viewed
Edko Films
Hong Kong


picture: Focus (1996)picture: Focus (1996)

Original title
Satoshi ISAKA
  • Tadanobu ASANO
  • Keiko UNNA
  • Akira SHIRAI
Running time
71 mins.

picture: Focus (1996)

Tom Mes

Seen totally from the point of view of a news camera, [Focus] is a crafty, inventive and powerful assault on the human craving for sensationalism and on the shape that craving takes in everyday life - better known as the news media.

Through the lens we follow the exploits of a three-person news crew (a reporter, a cameraman and their young woman assistant) on a human interest assignment. From the word go, it's clear to the viewer that their subject is a loser; a timid young man with only one passion in life - listening in on radio and telephone conversations. It is this image the news crew hope to exploit. By juxtaposing shots that show him at his most clumsy and umcomfortable with scenes in the only environment (his hobby) where he is totally at ease, they show this man as a pathetic nerd to which the viewers, and the crew themselves - who clearly have an internal hierarchy that weighs heavy on the shoulders of the young woman, can feel superior.

But the point of this film seems to be that people have many faces. First impressions and the assumptions derived from them are often shallow and false. A monster can dress like a man, but it is still a monster. And vice versa.

When they accidentally overhear a phone conversation between two criminals about a hidden gun, the reporter sees the potential story and follows the lead. Their young subject, clearly uneasy with the whole situation, is made to stoop even lower by becoming a mere tool for the reporter's ambitions to deliver a sensational news story. Oddly enough this humanizes the character of the young man, making him tragic instead of pathetic and shattering the image of the geeky loser that was created from the start.

With the reporter taking the limelight, his disdain for his subject - now, to him, an object - and his position of power over his crew, the group starts a downward trajectory from voyeurism (ironically stooping to the level of their own maligned subject) and sensationalism through irresponsibility and stupidity to violence and death.

It is tempting to compare this film to the runaway hit The Blair Witch Project. In fact, seeing this film makes one wonder how all the western critics who raved about Blair Witch would react to [Focus]. In my view, Isaka's film beats its rival hands down.

Here, character development and motivation ring true. The gradual descent in these characters' morals comes from inside and feels, under the circumstances, like a natural process. Whereas in Blair Witch, the far too sudden changes in the characters were merely a tool to keep the story moving. Also, in [Focus] the horror comes from inside the characters, an approach endlessly more powerful and frightening than two directors building little piles of rocks or making spooky sounds in the night for actors to react to.

Turning a minimal budget into an asset rather than an obstacle, director Isaka, who would return to haunt the news media with his next film The Frame, has crafted a film that packs a major punch.


Kadokawa (Japan)

picture: DVD cover of 'Focus'

Region 2. English subtitles.