The Climbers High (2009)

Masato Harada
On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines Flight 123, crashed into the ridge of Mt Takamagahara, on Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture. A roving reporter is given the go-ahead to cover the story and receives tremendous pressure to beat out competing news organizations to the first with the scoop.

Awards: -

Runtime: 145min

Rating: PG


Nominated for ten Japanese Academy Awards, The Climbers High rightfully did not win any. Directed by Masato Harada, the film is a post-fictionalized tale of a true incident. In 1985, the world’s worst plane crash happened at Osutaka Ridge, killing 520 persons on board. Only four survived. What followed after constitutes the bulk of the film’s narrative.

The Climbers High is an incisive look into the peril and passion of journalism. News reporting is not what it seems - carefree, and spot-on. Rather it is tumultuous and stressful, and many in the field are puppets pulled by strings from behind the curtains. Harada’s film tackles issues such as the freedom of press, the ethics of journalism, and the rivalry between localized and national newspapers. In a bid to make The Climbers High less of a press procedural, Harada has employed the use of a side story edited in such a way that it parallels the main story.

Here the filmmakers center on Yuuki, the film’s lead character played excellently by Shinichi Tsutsumi. In The Climbers High, Yuuki takes on a role in two different settings - in a busy press room and on a mountain climb. He struggles in both though he eventually reaches the peak. In the petty politics of journalism, he is faced with superiors who are money-minded, nationalistic, and downright stubborn. Tasked to cover the plane crash which incidentally happened around the vicinity, Yuuki is forced to adhere to deadlines at the cost of in-depth coverage and missed journalistic opportunities.

Harada’s direction becomes more assured as the film progresses, overcoming a first half-hour stutter which through sloppy editing and poor story development causes viewers to become disinterested in the film early on. The juxtaposition of the challenge of mountain climbing to the peril of journalism is not only thematically done well; the constant change of environment also gets viewers engaged. This is especially important because the film is not entirely appealing and it runs longer than it should be. The Climbers High contains some impressive, fiery dialogue which occasionally livens up the proceedings. However, it remains an averagely decent movie at best.

GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)

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