Producer: K. Longinotto, by Twentieth Century Vixen for the BBC
Kim Longinotto’s Shinjuku Boys is one of several documentaries she has made about versions of women’s sexuality in Japan. In this short film, she introduces her audience to the lives of three annabes, women who dress and live as men, though who do not identify as lesbians. Gaish, Tatsu, and Kazuki work at the New Marilyn Nightclub in the Shunjuku section of Tokyo. They are “hosts” at the nightclub; their job is to entertain the clientele, making them feel welcome and cared for. Their patrons are straight, young or middle-aged women. As Kazuki says with a comfortable smile, “Each customer thinks we’re her special boyfriend. They’re wrong”.
Most of the documentary simply follows the annabes around their lives—in fact, long shots are taken of the subjects just walking around Tokyo. Longinotto’s goal seems to be to give us a very intimate sense of each subject’s personality, both in how they deal with customers at the club and in their outside lives, and she is very succesful in this goal. We see Tatsu getting a haircut and chatting with his barber about his hormone injections, and also preparing dinner with his serious girlfriend. Gaish goes on a date that we follow, which ends in his (or possibly his date’s) bedroom. With Kazuki, we watch his costuming process and meet his girlfriend, who is a drag queen.
In some sections of the movie, there are framed interviews. These are more or less informal, filmed in a variety of locations, though none of them are in studios. The interviewer is off-screen, but we do hear the questions posed to the subjects in Japanese. Gaish and Kazuki both have joint interviews with their girlfriends in addition to their individual interviews. The men talk about a variety of issues, including sexual practices and difficulties, long-term relationship plans, the effects of hormone injections, and the reactions of their families to their annabe status.
One major failing of this film is its lack of cultural context. There is no larger discussion of gender relations or queer culture in Japan, and as a result most Western viewers are left with an incomplete understanding of what precisely differentiates these women from a lesbian or transvestite/transsexual culture in Tokyo. The meaning of the word “annabe” is left vague, and the lack of background information makes me feel actually uncomfortable watching the film: I’m afraid of seeing these men through the cultural stereotypes I may bring to the table.
A good look at Longinotto’s career as a whole, and trends within these six films:
Morris, Gary. “Rebel Girls: Six Documentaries by Kim Longinotto”. Bright Lights Film Journal, (49), 2005 Aug, (no pagination) (Electronic publication.)
White, Patricia. “Cinema Solidarity: The Documentary Practice of Kim Longinotto”. Cinema Journal, (46:1), 2006 Fall, 120-28. 2006