Director Mayu Nakamura spoke to The Natural Aristocrat® about her episodic feature film, ‘She is me, I am her’.
Perhaps, no scene in 2022 cinema will stay with viewers more than character Tomoko, a blind woman, speaking about the first stages of losing her vision. Her world and career dreams both narrowing into darkness.
‘She is me, I am her’ shows realistic characters and powerful writing is still paramount to what emotionally connects us to a film.
This Mayu Nakamura interview contains spoilers for the four short films in ‘She is me, I am her’. The picture saw its world premiere at Japan Society NYC on November 12, 2022.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT (NIR REGEV): Nanae says “It’s not enough to play just the roles of wife and mother,” regretting giving up her acting career in ‘Among Four of Us’.
In our youth, we don’t realize how even one decision can set us on a linear path away from our dreams. What are your thoughts on Koji’s counter philosophy that “we really don’t have many choices” in reality?
MAYU NAKAMURA: When you are young like in your 20’s, you think you can do everything you want, but as you get older, you realize that you can’t do everything, and you need to choose, and have to give up something. But we sometimes have doubts about our choices. This is what Nanae is expressing.
On the other hand, Koji chose the life of an actor who gets to play many different roles, but he had to accept the fact that he somehow failed to have a family.
“Among Four of Us” is about how our lives don’t always pan out as we expect it to be, but we have to live with the choices that we make.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: In contrast, in ‘Ms. Ghost’, both actresses have let their dream drive them into poverty and exploitation. Being a star dangling a little bit further from their reach every day.
Did you research acting agencies pressuring sex work on their talent like Sachi experiences?
MAYU NAKAMURA: “Ms. Ghost” is about women who can’t quite give up their dreams, and always think of themselves as actresses, even if they become homeless or a sex worker.
The film is based on the true story of a 64 year-old woman who had a dream to become an actress, but she became homeless and beaten to death at the bus stop. I was really shaken by the incident, and felt this could happen to any woman.
I also did research and talked to a young sex worker who had a dream of becoming a voice actor for anime, but worked as a “delivery sex worker.”
Some models and actors work in the sex industry in order to make money. Some are pressured into working in the sex industry.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The juxtaposition of Sachi admiring Kayoko’s beauty in her first headshot to Kayoko’s death by a man for being an “eyesore” is an incredibly brutal moment.
Kayoko mentions being a domestic abuse survivor from her husband as well which further amplifies the scene. What message do you hope people take away from ‘Ms. Ghost’?
MAYU NAKAMURA: It looks like a homeless woman and a sex worker in “Ms. Ghost” seem like women in desperate situations, but I wanted to say this could happen to any woman.
A freelance woman like me easily loses jobs, and even if you are married and have a husband who will support you, you might suffer from domestic abuse.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You captured the essence of Kayoko when she turned away help with both hands from Sachi. Do you feel there’s lost souls out there that need to be rescued from themselves? Even if they don’t want to depend on anyone…
MAYU NAKAMURA: In “Ms. Ghost”, I wanted to portray how two desperate women find solace in each other one night. It’s beautiful, because it is fleeting.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Was Kayoko meant to be the unseen Sayoko from ‘Among the Four of Us’?
MAYU NAKAMURA: I didn’t conceive as such, but it could be read that way. Incidentally, both are actresses.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: The scene in “Deceive Me Sweetly” where Tomoko, a blind woman asks to ‘see’ someone by touching their face is strong and intimate. What was it like filming this moment and how did you express blindness so gently on-screen?
MAYU NAKAMURA: The actress Nahana and I did extensive research with blind people. We talked to a blind woman who lost her sight in her teens.
We also went to this art space where you can experience blindness called “Dialogue in the Dark.” Most blind people told us that they don’t really touch people’s faces even if they are your significant other.
However I like this short story called “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. In the story, there is a scene in which the main character is asked by a blind man to let him touch her face.
I thought it was very cinematic and beautiful, and I wanted to realize that in my film. Also touching is such a delicate issue in the time of COVID, letting people touch you is the act of trusting someone now. It is a leap of faith.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Tomoko’s description of her vision, her world narrowing as the years merged into blindness is absolutely chilling and stays with the viewer. Did the blind woman you interviewed describe it like that?
MAYU NAKAMURA: Yes, the blind woman who we interviewed told us about her experience of losing her sight.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Are disabled people like Tomoko common targets for scammers in Japan?
MAYU NAKAMURA: Most of the scammers target the elderly women.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: You managed to completely flip perception of the two leads in ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ after the revelation that the delivery boy had been silently taking photos of the grieving female lead all along.
Was it your intention to show first impressions are deceiving?
MAYU NAKAMURA: In a short film, you kind of need a twist at the end. “Someone to Watch Over Me” is bit of a twisted story. Delivery service has become so popular in the post-COVID Tokyo, and I heard some stories about delivery boys developing a crush on female customers.
I developed those stories into this film. I fantasized what if an anorexic woman orders a meal in order to satisfy her secret desire, and a delivery man who has a secret of his own.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ feels distinctly lifelike in its calming stillness. Particularly, when the delivery boy Kazuya eats meals and May watches. What was your cinematic influence to shoot the film in this style?
MAYU NAKAMURA: I researched about eating disorders and watched films like “Swallow”.
It’s hard to make a conversation scene look interesting. But Masao Yoshii who played the delivery guy is a comedian and he’s so good at playing a creepy, but lovable and funny character, so it helped to have him play the role. The film is aptly about “gaze”.
It’s about a woman who gets satisfaction from watching a man eat, and it’s also about a man who likes to watch the woman he fancies secretly.
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: What does it mean to you to have your films screened as ‘She is me, I am her’ at Japan Society NYC as part of ‘The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond’ film festival?
MAYU NAKAMURA: I wanted to make a film about various women surviving in the post-COVID Tokyo. So I am very honored and excited to have the film played at “The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond.”
I would love to hear how audiences saw the film!
THE NATURAL ARISTOCRAT: Thanks Mayu!
– Learn more about ‘She is me, I am Her’ premiering at New York City’s Japan Society this past November 12th.
-‘She is me, I am her’ was screened as part of ACA Cinema Project’s “The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond” film festival. The film festival is currently running through November 20th with lots of great films featured nightly.
About Mayu Nakamura – Writer/ Director
“Mayu earned an MFA from the Graduate Film Program at New York University. In 2006, her first fiction feature film, “The Summer of Stickleback,” premiered in the competition section at the Busan International Film Festival.
In 2012, Mayu directed the documentary feature film, “Lonely Swallows–Living as the Children of Migrant Workers,” which follows Japanese-Brazilian kids struggling to survive in Japan and Brazil. The film won the Grand Prix in Documentary Features at the Brazilian Film Festival.
In 2015, Mayu directed another documentary feature film, “Alone in Fukushima.” The film follows a man who stays with animals left behind in the Fukushima nuclear zone. The film was screened in the documentary section at the Montreal World Film Festival.
Her writing credits include a script for “Tokyo Trial,” a Dutch/Canadian/Japanese coproduction series drama that was nominated at the 45th Emmy Awards for Best TV Movie/Mini-Series.
Mayu’s latest feature film, “Intimate Stranger” premiered at 34th Tokyo International Film Festival, Nippon Cinema Now section.”
‘She is me, I am her’ film Synopsis:
“A socially-distanced college reunion, an unusual rapport struck between a food delivery man and a patron, a bus-stop encounter, and a blind woman scammed into thinking her brother is sick constitute the stories of Mayu Nakamura’s COVID-era quadriptych—a work that encapsulates the newfound anxieties of loneliness, insecurity and the struggle for connection within the depths of the pandemic lockdown.
Tied together by the remarkable performances of actress Nahana, who embodies the various female characters across the film’s varied narratives, Nakamura’s episodic feature—which includes the JC 2022-selected short Among Four of Us—delves into the lives of women in COVID-era Japan, finding profundity and human connection amid the unlikely encounters of strangers.”
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