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Shiori Ito’s feature documentary “Black Box Diaries” about the investigation of the director’s own sexual assault, earned a standing ovation following its Hot Docs Canadian premiere on Monday.

The 103-minute film tracks Ito’s arduous, five-year struggle to bring to justice renowned TV reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi, who sexually assaulted her. In 2015, Ito – then a 26-year-old intern at Thomson Reuters – went out for a drink with Yamaguchi, only to become intoxicated and taken against her will to his hotel room.

In Japan, according to the film, only 4% of victims of rape report their cases to police. But Ito “felt a strong desire for the truth to be known and to change Japanese society in order to prevent what happened to me from happening to more women.”

In 2017, Ito’s memoir about the rape, titled “Black Box,” was published and went on to win the Free Press Association of Japan Award for Best Journalism in 2018. She followed that with “Black Box Diaries,” her feature documentary debut. The film combines secret investigative recordings, vérité footage and emotional first-person video to tell her story, which would become a landmark case in Japan.

“With only a vague idea of its future use, the material for this film began with a need to protect myself,” Ito said. “In the previous year, after my case was suppressed by various levels of power in the Japanese system, I had secretly recorded conversations with the police and others. I became not only the victim but the investigator of my own case.”

By going public in May 2017 with her rape allegations, Ito helped change Japan’s antiquated sexual assault laws. Last year, the country raised the age of consent from 13 to 16 and in 2017 men were allowed to report allegations of rape.

During a Q&A following the docu’s Monday screening two men and one woman from the audience revealed their history with sexual assault.

“If anyone needs help or needs to talk, there is a comfort therapist in the theater,” Ito told the crowd after the third confession. The director went on to make a few suggestions about how to deal with trauma.

“I recommend making a film,” Ito told the crowd. “It works. It doesn’t have to be a film. Writing is also good.”

“Black Box Diaries” made its world premiere in January at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, but has yet to find distribution. As reported in Variety, the film’s sales agent Dogwoof is selling the film territory by territory.

“You have to choose a path,” producer Eric Nyari said. “Either the streaming path or the territory by territory path. We looked at a lot of options and decided to sell territory but territory. A number of territories including the U.S. are interested, which is very exciting.”

Nyari explained that the film’s distribution will be accompanied by an award season campaign.

Ultimately Nyari and Ito’s biggest goal is to find Japanese distribution for the doc.

“That’s the trickiest (market),” Nyari said. “Shiori’s story is decisive in a way in Japan that it’s not here or anywhere else in the world for the most part. In order to make the biggest impact there, strategically we want to make a big splash and hopefully get recognition internationally first so people in Japan really have to pay attention.”

Nyari referenced an-hour long 2018 BBC television doc about Ito’s case as an example.

“It wasn’t until the BBC picked up Shiori’s case that the Japanese media was forced to confront the issue and her case,” he explained. “So, we are quite confident it will be released in Japan; it’s just a matter of when.”

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