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In Session: Framing East Asian Feminist Cinema
3: Butterflies and Blood Spatters: The Ostentatious Scopophilia of Ninagawa Mika’s Feminine Fantasies
Thursday, March 25, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of British Columbia, United States
Woman directors working in Japan’s commercial film industry take great care to cultivate an apolitical public persona. A notable exception is Ninagawa Mika. Ninagawa not only firmly acknowledges a gendered subject position as a woman working in a cis-male-hetero visual media ecology, she continues to assert that she makes films specifically to showcase a “woman’s point of view” (Ninagawa, 2016). One of Japan’s most celebrated commercial fashion photographers, Ninagawa is an acclaimed “girly” visual artist (Karatsu), videographer, and director of films and music videos. She is immensely popular, particularly with female-identifying audiences. She features so-called “bad girl” protagonists and recruits notoriously “bad girl” celebrities to play them (Jamier). She has a vision of extravagance and a vision of extremes, all largely draped in red: “the color of passion, the color of blood, the color of everything” (Ninagawa, 2012). “Vision” is the key word when it comes to Ninagawa’s oeuvre. Through Ninagawa’s viewfinder everyone, regardless of gender, is to be looked at, including the audience. Her extravagant, scopophilic world openly acknowledges that the act of looking is one of power, one of passion and desire, one of projection, reflection, connection, objectification, and is, precisely due to all that, a woman’s nightmare. This paper focuses on the cinematography of Ninagawa Mika—her photography and filmography alike—with special attention to genre thrillers Helter Skelter (2012) and Diner (2019) in order to articulate the visual realm of a feminine uncanny in contemporary Japanese media industries.