Enter Mika Ninagawa‘s residence-slash-office and you’re in for a treat — behind the unassuming facade, hidden from the outsiders’ eyes, is a small wonderland. Covered floor to ceiling in its owner’s signature imagery the place is a screenshot of her saturated blue-red-flower-fish works, even the air conditioner is masked with photo paper. I pull my camera out, turn the dial, click, click… Error. It’s dead. I guess some things are not meant to be captured. Besides, who could illustrate Ninagawa interview better than the award winning photographer, acclaimed filmmaker and the artist in her own right herself. Her ever present partner, Kanaya-san, nods. Ninagawa lights up a cigarette.
Interview by Andrey Bold
Bold: Your latest movie, Helter Skelter the film is based on the cult manga, written b Kyoko Okazaki, and follows the downfall of a young star, Lilico, who came to prominence through continuous plastic surgeries but can no longer sustain her beauty), is about cut-throat world of show business. As a person who makes a good living out of it, why did you choose to direct it?
Ninagawa: I thought it’s a very interesting theme. I decided to direct it seven years ago. Back then I wasn’t that successful commercially. I was actually quite confused when I finished filming. Am I in denial? I chose this theme because I sympathized with the character, but at the end it was hard to even advertise the film as the process mimics the story. I even had to re-think how to take photos. I completely understand why Erika had to take a break afterward.
Bold: Did you consider Erika for the lead from the beginning?
Ninagawa: Erika was my first choice, but there were some difficulties in casting her at the time. Considering other options I only became more confident it has to be her.
Bold: Excellent choice. Bad behavior is an integral part of the celebrity phenomenon, in Japan however celebrities are expected to behave like model citizens.
Ninagawa: I think it’s a part of the Japanese DNA to fear the unconventional. When “Helter Skelter” started to receive mixed reaction I wasn’t that concerned, but I guess it’s tougher on the actors. Must be very stressful to face all this criticism. What you hear about Erika in the media is just a small part of who she is, on the set she was extremely giving and dedicated.
Bold: I think it’s only natural to act obnoxiously when you’re stressed out. It’s a part of the package. In Japan however even a slight misstep may end someone’s career overnight. Why is that?
Ninagawa: That’s so true, I wonder why. Is it an Asian thing? I think actors should be judged by their acting.
Bold: Japanese media seems to be overcrowded with tarento, what are your thoughts on that?
Ninagawa: In “Helter Skelter” Lilico is an absolute star. The story takes place in the ’90s, when there were still some real stars. It’s difficult for me to translate this comic into present because there are no stars left. This country seems to reject them. There are some idols and tarento who are nice people, but rather androgynous, lacking the real character. I guess people can’t stand true stars because they are so different, they’d rather watch some stupid proxies they can sympathize with. I don’t watch TV myself, it’s too painful. Women are always treated like assistants. Japanese men like weak, submissive women, it makes them feel stronger, more confident. Women like Anna Tsuchiya don’t get much attention because she’s too strong. Many girls like me because I’m different, a rare example. I wish they free themselves from these centuries old customs already. I don’t care about the guys, but it’s my duty to help women to become happier. I once talked to a famous newscaster and asked her what she thinks is the key to the long lasting carrier, she answered “it’s important to make men think she’s great, but not better than me.” It’s crazy, but men often don’t see it! Japanese customs are strange, especially when you come back from abroad… [Sigh]
Bold: es, Girl power seems to be an underlying layer in most of your works. Do you feel the situation is gradually changing? Are women more in control these days?
Ninagawa: Hard to say. In fashion men are minority. Only when I step outside I realize how rare my case is and how difficult it is for other women. I want to change it. I hope my work will encourage these women. I won’t go fighting for women’s rights though! We start with small things, like clothes… tights to look formal, or I’m too old for this outfit… I want to free them from this burden.
Bold: Men play secondary roles in your works.
Ninagawa: There are some boys in my photos. [Smiles] I only directed two films so far and chose the themes I can relate to. Women’s stories written by women. I think the third film is also going to be a woman’s story. Also, I don’t really need a man in my life now, I
have my son. Men are like sweets to me, if I’m madly in love I’d shoot a love story. I’m like that, my works reflect my feelings. [Laugh]
Bold: What type of men do you like?
Ninagawa: [Laugh] He doesn’t have to be rich, or extremely smart, but he’s got to be sexy. I just want him to flatter me sometimes. That’s why I often get bad boyfriends! [Laugh]
Bold: What is your biggest ambition?
Ninagawa: First, I want to become a household name in Asia, then — take over the world! I’m thinking of shooting films in China. I want my work to be seen everywhere.
source: Gadabout - Full Interview