Killing time with married men
Interview and translation by Kentaro Ide
Yukiko Sode’s mime-mime is an unflinching depiction of a jaded young girl (Makoto, played by Ayaco Niijima) alienated from her surroundings and her own self. Though the film features vivid portrayals of the sexual objectification of women, Sode insists that the real message of mime-mime is the inability of Japanese youth to communicate with themselves and with others.
Japan is known as a rather sexist society where women are often objectified. Your protagonist Makoto has a passionless sexual relationship with a married man and works at a phone-sex line. Has she internalized society’s views of women, or does she feel powerless to do anything about it?
Firstly, I think our views of Japan are a bit different. I would say in that modern Japan, men and women are almost equal. If anything, [young] women seem to have more power. Women now have more ambition, and are becoming more active in areas such as sexual relations.
In general, there is a tendency among both male and female youth to avoid developing deep relations with others. In the film, [Makoto] doesn’t want a proper “boyfriend-girlfriend” or “husband-wife” relationship and chooses to be with a married man who cannot become her “boyfriend.” It is therefore a relationship of convenience for Makoto.
But there are scenes where Makoto is deliberately portrayed through a male gaze, such as when she performs fellatio on her lover.
In the fellatio scene at the beginning, there’s no particular meaning in the fact that she’s being seen by someone. In this film, none of the sexual scenes feature actual intercourse. This demonstrates the subtle distance between the two characters. They experience pleasure together, but they aren’t connected. They have sex just to kill time. Their relationship does not involve a close connection where they share their joy and sorrow.
In that case, could Makoto have been written as a male character to convey the same themes?
I think that even if Makoto were a man, the core principles of her behavior would be the same. However, men may have a stronger social impetus to find a proper job and whatnot. I think her behavior is similar to that of Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate.
mime-mime is a movie about communication. Makoto, a modern youth, is apathetic. She has no passion about anything, whether it’s work, friendship, love, or herself. She has no desire to know or improve herself. I think this is something that is common among young people in Japan today. They don’t even understand their own selves, and so they can’t form deep relations with others. They just seek pleasure through sex.
The idea of rituals plays a central role in helping Makoto confront these issues, but how do the external actions involved in rituals help to resolve internal issues?
Identity is inherently an extremely ambiguous thing. And because “self” is so ambiguous, people perform rituals to determine their relations with one another. For example, lovers confirm their relationship by spending Valentine’s Day together, and friends confirm their relationship by discussing their problems. In this way, rituals help to make people’s lives easier. Even if it means using rituals that may seem contrived, I believe we need to continue engaging ourselves with other people.
mime-mime was runner-up at this year’s PIA Film Festival in Tokyo, where it won the Avex Best Entertainment Award, and it was nominated for the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema at this year’s VIFF.