ミッドナイトスワン (Middonaito Suwan)
Japan, 2020, 124’, Japanese
Directed by: Uchida Eiji
Script: Uchida Eiji
Photography (color): Ito Maki
Editing: Iwakiri Yuichi
Music: Shibutani Keiichiro
Producers: Moriya Takeshi, Morimoto Yurie
Executive Producer: Iijima Michi
Production Company: Culen Inc.
Cast: Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Hattori Misaki, Mizukawa Asami, Matobu Sei, Ueno Rinka
Date of First Release in Territory: September 25th, 2020
Transgender Japanese have long found a haven of sorts in the entertainment world, be it as a dancer in a Shinjuku club or an emcee on a network variety show. But as we see in Uchida Eiji’s tumultuous drama Midnight Swan, that haven can be fragile indeed.
And despite gains in social acceptance by the LGBT community, compared with generations past, a middle-aged transgender woman like the film’s heroine, played by one-time mega-idol Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, still faces prejudice that leaves her marginalized – or outcast, beginning with her own family.
Based on Uchida’s original script, the story of the heroine, Nagisa, takes a tragic view of her prospects minus youth, love and, finally, health. One comparison is the classic 1936 melodrama Camille, with the pathos of Greta Garbo’s doomed courtesan finding its reflection in Nagisa’s fate. Bringing light into this darkness is the parallel story of Ichika (Hattori Misaki), the teenaged daughter of Nagisa’s feckless alcoholic sister Saori (Mizukawa Asami). Kicked out of her Hiroshima home by mom, Ichika journeys to Tokyo to stay with Nagisa, who barely acknowledges her existence, but grudgingly helps her enroll in school.
Silent and withdrawn, if prone to violence when provoked, Ichika seems destined for a lonely existence. Her salvation is ballet, which she adores, but has never studied properly. Encountering a sympathetic teacher (Matobu Sei) and a friendly classmate (Ueno Rinka) who is also a budding ballerina, Ichika begins to train at a neighborhood ballet studio – and quickly becomes its star. Nagisa, however, has neither the money nor desire to underwrite Ichika’s dancing dream. Still, that dream reminds Nagisa of her own: To become a real woman and mother.
As he did in such films as Lowlife Love (2015) and Love and Other Cults (2017), which also examined Japanese society’s outer edges, Uchida gets beneath the surface of his characters’ milieus to find moments of unforced drama and closely observed realism. I’ve seen many dance classes in films (and even a few in person), but none with the sweaty intensity and youthful power of Ichika’s.
Also, Hattori Misaki, in her first-ever film role, is a quietly strong presence as Ichika, with a trained dancer’s poise. And when she takes to the stage, this real-life ballerina, who has won contests here and abroad, is a soaring marvel of grace.
As Nagisa, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi shows us her wounded heart while the all-too-real hardships and horrors she suffers enlist our sympathy. And, yes, she would have made a fine mom.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1971, Uchida returned to Japan at age 10. In 2004 he directed his first film, Gachapon. He followed up with a string of indie features, with comic, erotic, horror or thriller elements. Uchida’s black comedies Lowlife Love and Love and Other Cults both screened at FEFF. In 2019 he directed two episodes of the hit Netflix series The Naked Director and in 2020 released the LGBTQ-themed drama Midnight Swan. The film won Best Picture honors at this year’s Japan Academy Film Prizes, while star Kusanagi Tsuyoshi was awarded Best Actor honors for his portrayal of the film’s transgender heroine.
2004 – Gachapon
2008 – Topless
2011 – Black Angels
2011 – The Last Days of the World
2013 – Greatful Dead
2016 – Lowlife Love
2017 – Love and Other Cults
2019 – The Naked Director
2020 – Midnight Swan