The newest project by Japanese artist Mr., entitled “誰も死なない” (dare mo shinanai), or “Nobody Dies“, centers on a live-action short film – a departure for the Kaikai Kiki artist who as far as I know usually works in sculpture, painting, and drawing. The themes and content of the film, however, are anything but a departure, as the film, along with the accompanying photographs and massive anime-style canvas painting, reflect the artist’s fascination with cuteness, in particular that of the young teen female form.
The film features “Team Usagi”, five middle-school girls competing in paintball-style survival games using BB guns. I’ve read online that the stars of the film were just discovered on the streets of Tokyo by the artist, who directs the film, but I find this hard to believe, considering what expert actresses they seem.
The film begins with the girls in an okonomiyaki restaurant, licking their wounds after their latest loss, and plotting their revenge against their rivals, the Young Specters.
As the film continues, elements of the plot are implied, and atmosphere created, by flashes of still photos suggesting the wider environment. When one girl falls ill, normal movie scenes of her curling up in bed and coughing are punctuated by flashes of images of hospitals, pills, and ambulances. The girls’ town is suggested in flashes of sunflowers, fields of green, and quiet suburban homes.
In the end, the girls, bedecked in loud, colorful, supercute camo combat outfits, designed by Mr., complete with a hot pink helmet and besequinned gun barrels, face off against their rivals. These older girls are gyaru, a subculture the aesthetic of which involves excessive face makeup, dark orangey artificial tans, and dreadlocked hair. Team Usagi secure their victory, and go to a streetside oden stall to celebrate. Mr. himself makes an appearance as a goofy and slightly bizarre policeman.
The film is full of fanservice, and is quite blatantly fueled by and founded on a fascination with young girls. It is in this way a fantastic example of a wider current which forms a key element of one branch of Japanese pop culture. Frequently misinterpreted by critics as being sexual, perverted, or akin to pornography, a film like this is about as clean, bright, colorful, playful, and innocent as can be. I went into this thinking that interesting insightful connections might be drawn between this and Battle Royale; how wrong I was. The title alone, taken in context after having seen the film and understanding its themes and message, reveals how innocent and playful the film is. Take the fanservice shots of the girls’ butts, boobs, and other sensitive camera angles out, and it’s no different in theme or content from any cute, playful, bubblegum film designed to thrill tween girls.
While there are a number of these shots in the film, quite blatantly aimed directly at the girls’ chests, between their legs, or at their bottoms, the viewer hardly sees anything they would not see in everyday normal life. There is one scene in which the camera follows directly behind one of the girls in the pool, and we watch as her legs open and close, kicking her swimming stroke. When she comes up for air, we see her head and face, and then her chest emerging out of the water.. and then the camera takes us from the floor, up her long, thin, unblemished legs as she showers after getting out of the pool, her bathing suit still providing excellent coverage and concealment.
These shots make me smile; I won’t lie. I enjoy them, but not in a sexual way. And I don’t think that Mr., or his intended audience, would be sexually excited by this. There is something beautiful and peaceful and pleasant about the clean lines, clear skin, and youthful features of the young female form, and about the bright & colorful palette seen in the film, along with the innocent and playful context. Critics confuse aesthetic pleasure for sexual pleasure, the innocent, cute, beauty of a young girl for something intended by artist/filmmaker as a sexual object.
The film ends with a mellow tune, reminiscent of the fun, carefree summer days of our childhood; or, rather, of the nights as the fun wrapped up, and things slowed down. You can hear the song, and see the bouncy, cute, stereotypical shoujo-style logo, and get an overall feel for the film, in the trailer below. I wish, though, that I could find the full 35-minute film online somewhere.
Perhaps it is a nostalgia for youth, a desire to return to that innocent and carefree time, that attracts Mr., myself, numerous anime/manga creators, and others, to these themes and subjects. I certainly never had the kind of adventures, the kind of group dynamics, the kind of city fun, that these girls have in the film.
Work like Mr.’s can seem quite flat & superficial when compared to modern artists who claim incredible depth of meaning in their abstract, undecipherable, acultural creations. But the social and subcultural phenomena it ties into actually allow it to raise a great many questions, and to provide insights as well. Perhaps the most powerful and/or important thing works like these offer is a glimpse into another world, another attitude or view of the world; more importantly, it sucks you into that world, and makes you appreciate the fun, the cuteness, the energy, the light and beauty of our world, as you step out of the gallery and continue your day, humming the music from the film.
A question also arises of what separates an art film from something commercial? Artistic cinematography (the flashes of images used to create atmosphere) and questionable camera angles aside, the plot, content, and overall feeling of this film are that of something which could pass for an episode of a regular television drama; tune in next week when Team Usagi meets the boy of their dreams. Or something to that effect.
Murakami Takashi, the head of the atelier to which Mr. belongs, is known for breaking down, blurring, or ignoring these boundaries between art and commercial design. I don’t know that much about Mr. himself…
One of the other things that I rather like about this work is that, while it obviously lends itself to discussions of feminism and violence, the symbolism of the young girls playing such violent survival games, and what that might symbolize about the roles of girls in society today, or some such… while this may be the case, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Mr. has no intention of expressing any such message through his work. There is something intriguing or appealing or attractive about the juxtaposition of these petite, young, cute, innocent girls with the violence of the survival game, and that’s all there is to it.
*Official site for the film.
*Hint Fashion Magazine offers an interview with the artist, on the occasion of his first NY solo exhibition, in May of last year.
*Blog “ASupremeNewYorkThing” offers an insightful and well-written review of “Nobody Dies”.