Documentarian and journalist Shiori Ito is finding her own power on-screen, turning her story of sexual assault into her powerful directorial debut, “Black Box Diaries,” premiering at Sundance. The film follows Ito’s 2015 assault and what happened once she went public with it in 2017.
“When I published my book, that was 2017, it was the exact time the #MeToo movement happened,” Ito said at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. But while #MeToo dominated America it wasn’t really a movement in Japan. “I always felt very isolated,” she said. “When I published my book it was more [from] the point-of-view of a journalist.” It was something Ito struggled with, feeling like she left her survivor’s side out of the story.
“With this film it took some time, but I managed to talk, and film and show the point-of-view of how I survived and how many women and men [come] through this journey. I felt this was something I needed to tell through documentary film,” she said. “For me, it was really helpful that i could take a look at this case, take a look at me, as a journalist and have distance to it.”
Her editor went through over 400 hours of footage and, while documenting a very serious topic, was able to find moments of levity to showcase how Ito refused to let this one moment define her. “My amazing editor really jumped into this 400 hours of footage to find a very human moment of it,” she said. “When you think about this tragic story…we’re all human, and we laugh and have a good time as well and I want to show all of it.”
Ito admits that “I didn’t even know how hard it would be” to come forward with her story. She was “ignorant” about how rape cases were handled in her native Japan. “Only four percent of women [in Japan] go to police,” she said. Ito wonders if she’d had even needed to go public if the police had actually looked into her case. “If [the] police investigated, and everything went okay, and I could seek the justice I wouldn’t have had to do this all by myself.”
But that wasn’t the case. In fact, Ito admits when she reported her assault the police told her she wouldn’t get to work in the media and her life would be over. “There are so many different ways to survive,” she said. “But thinking I would carry this truth in me…I can’t talk about other truth.” It was because of the #MeToo movement in America that her case gained traction, garnering a report in The New York Times. “All the layers of every woman speaking up all over the world really helped me,” she said.
There have been some changes to the laws in Japan regarding consent and sexual assault since Ito came forward. “The good news is we had two steps forward….in our law,” she said. “Before, our age of consent with sex was 13 years old. Can you imagine? What were you thinking at 13? Now it’s 15. And, before 2017 when I went public, men couldn’t claim rape cases; it was only for women, and that changed. Slight changes are happening which is very slow but I’m hoping that will change more.”
And while the man who raped Ito continued to keep his job, Ito said he hasn’t diminished her spirit. “It’s not my job to punish him,” she said. “I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now because I felt like he took away my voice and what I can do, and I’m showing I can still work as a journalist. I feel powerful now.”
Watch the full interview above.
“Black Box Diaries” is a sales title at Sundance.