Daihachi Yoshida, known from narratives like Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers! (2007), The Kirishima Thing (2012) and Pale Moon (2014) is back with his adaptation of Takeshi Shiota’s novel Damashie no Kiba, which explored the ills and the opportunities of Japan’s publishing world.
One day, the Japanese literary world is shocked by the sudden death of Kinosuke Iba (-), who ran Kunpu, one of Japan’s foremost publishers. Yet, even without his death, the magazine sales have seen a steady decline. Yet, this decline is not necessarily due to a lack of quality, but due to the rise of new social elements, like amazon’s exponential growth, that are actively endangering Japan’s unique distribution system.
At the 40th anniversary of famous writer Daisuke Nikaido (Jun Kunimura), Teruya Hayami (Yo Oizumi), editor of Kunpu’s culture mag Trinity, affronts Nikaido and Yuriko Enami (Yoshino Kimura), Kunpu review’s chief editor, by playfully forcing Megumi Takano (Mayu Matsuoka) to display her love for literature and criticize his rather stale recent work. The next day, Hayami learns that ‘cultural ignoramus’ Tomatsu (Koichi Sato), the director and future CEO, thinks of discontinuing the magazine he is responsible for.
Kiba: Fangs of Fiction appears, at first glance, to be a tale about two similar but essentially different conflicts. The first and obviously most eye-catching conflict is the one between the newly appointed CEO of Kunpu, who desires to radically restructure the company for the future, and the editor Yuriko Enami and managing director Kazuo Kudo (Shiro Sano). The first upheaval in the company is caused by his choice to change, without any discussion whatsoever, Kunpu review from a monthly into a quarterly magazine.
One could describe this conflict as being a violent clashing between the need for financial efficiency and the self-assumed quest some have embarked on to protect the value of literature. Yet, it is the very clinging to tradition that, in truth, endangers the celebration of literature’s value. Even though Kunpu Review considers itself to be the most important protector of Japanese literature, its traditional and fossilized ways of handling things problematize the protecting role they desire to play.
The contradictory position of Kunpu Review is sensibly highlighted by the friction that exists between Enami, the chief editor of Kunpu review, and Hayama, the editor of Culture mag Trinity. This friction – and this is the second conflict that marks Kiba: Fangs of Fiction – is a conflict between the consciousness that pro-active reinvention is needed and the honorable but blind defensive desire to protect long-standing anchored traditions (Narra-note 1).
It is through the character of Enami that the negative effects of such a desire to protect Kunpu Review become sensible. She does not only display a fear or rather an unwillingness to confront a well-respected writer with the harsh but honest critique of his writing, but also a refusal to be daring and question the ‘traditional dignity’ of one’s highly respected magazine. In other words, Enami tries, despite the changing social landscape, to blindly respect tradition – i.e. the traditional functioning of the literary world. While such approach, of course, has its virtues, such safe attitude increasingly puts her cultural monument at odds with what can resonate with book-loving audiences – e.g. new brilliant writers, like Sei Yazawa (Hio Miyazawa), are refused to protect the traditional harmony of the writing-contest.
Hayami, for his part, is tasked with the challenge of reinventing a magazine in such a way that it attracts new readers without offending its loyal readers. For him, re-invention is a necessity to ensure the survival of his culture mag. This pressing need forms one of the main reasons why he asks Megumi Takano, who has been forced to transfer after the Nikaido incident, to use her love for and knowledge of literature to help him out, be it by charming a famous writer or by editing a debut novel for Trinity.
The pleasing interaction of both conflicts allows the spectator to learn various things about the Japanese publishing world. He does not only gain a certain understanding of the difficulty to create a fresh and exciting issue for an ailing magazine but also comes to comprehend the power advertisement holds over the kind of content that can and cannot appear in the magazine. The importance of media or, in more precise words, of manipulating media (e.g. creating scandals, exploiting scandals, organizing coverage in other magazines, … etc.) to create a certain buzz is also touched upon. Yet, such play with media is, as model/writer Saki Joshima (Elaiza Ikeda), experiences first-hand, not without any dangers.
Kiba: Fangs of Fiction also highlights the well-known impact the blossoming of online ‘bookstores’, like Amazon and Rakuten, have on the publishing system and on local businesses, but also touches upon the danger that applications that allow one to rent and download manga pose for those bookstores that depend on selling manga for their income. Yet, such changes are irreversible. What can a publishing company do to remain relevant in this ever-increasing digital world and in the world of literature? And can a bookstore survive the destructive impact of the growing popularity of digital convenience?
The answers to both these questions beautifully reveals that the search to increase revenue is not merely found in trying to capitalize on modern trends or by making protective choices that allows one to maximize profit, but by becoming a company/store that can play a pro-active role in allowing a new kind of modern literature to blossom, a kind of literature that, by echoing the current times and playing with the public in a more direct manner, succeeds in resonating with the unconscious of the readers.
The composition of Kiba: Fangs of Fiction is a fairly straightforward affair – combining a variety of shots in a predictable way. Yet, Yoshida’s composition does what it needs to do, push the narrative forward with a compositional fluidity that keeps the spectator engaged. Moments of visual pleasure are not simply function of the fluid alternation of fixed and dynamic shots but of the very dynamism that marks scene-compositions. By playing with the compositional rhythm or the nature of the transitions, Yoshida does not only ensure the involvement of the audience, but also succeeds in visually evoking a certain subjective experience – e.g. how a reader gets sucked into a page-turner.
Besides playing with the compositional rhythm, Yoshida is also creative with the rhythm at the acoustic level. By letting music creatively communicate with the flow of the speech, the director succeeds in infusing a pleasant lightheartedness in the unfolding of his narrative. The musical accompaniment is, furthermore, also instrumental in dictating the rhythm of certain sequences.
While Kiba: Fangs of Fiction does not deliver anything extra-ordinary or groundbreaking, Daihachi Yoshida did succeed in turning Shiota’s interesting story and fascinating world of publishing and bookstores into an engaging and pleasant filmic narrative. With his narrative, Yoshida furthermore shows that, within this ever-increasing influence of the digital world, the ‘protection’ of the art of literature needs to go hand in hand with a bold inventiveness and creative exploitation of social media and trends.
Narra-note 1: The narrative beautifully shows that the desire to make the publishing company healthier at a financial level goes hand in hand with finding new ways to deliver literature that matters and to provide stories that have a subjective impact to the literature-loving public. The pragmatical search for profit is thus not, by definition, detrimental to the desire to celebrate the value of literature.