TV journalist Iwai (Shirai Akira) is shooting an off-beat piece with his small two-person crew of cameraman and lackey AD (Unno Keiko), about Kanemura (Asano Tadanobu) who uses gadgetry to pick up stray signals from mobile phones, police radios, etc. Shot exclusively through the lens of the TV crew's camera, we are invited to share and critique the voyeuristic and manipulative machinations of the quasi-reporting that passes for TV News in Japan. Our distaste for geeky Kanemura's obsessive eavesdropping pales in comparison to the nausea engendered by the moral vacuity of Iwai and his apathetic accomplices.
Isaka turns his budgetary constraints to his advantage through the clever use of his framing device, giving a sense of immediacy to events and creating a metaphor for our own complicity in consuming the undignified fare the wide-shows and tabloids dish up. Crackling performances from Iwai and Asano make the first 30 minutes tense and compelling.
Then suddenly a gun is introduced, and with depressing inevitability the audience knows it will get fired. When it does, the aftermath sees the manipulator manipulated, the geek become aggressor, and the apathetic forced to participate. At this point the criticism Isaka has sustained so well is compromised by his own wish to exploit the action (and his female actor) for cheap thrills. The turnaround is too pat, and Asano's slide into psychosis is too quick and convenient.
Fine acting and brisk pacing make Focus worth watching. Like In The Company of Men it sets up a trick that leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and will have audiences arguing its merits afterwards. That's no bad thing, and I hesitate to reveal more of the story because Focus works well on many levels. Ultimately, however, it loses its way in terms of message.
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