What many would see as paedophilia appears to be an acceptable “taste” in Japan, for want of a better word. The obsession with young girls is one that is deeply ingrained in the nation’s culture especially where the modelling industry is concerned.
The rule seems to be as young as possible, according to the scenario described in the BBC4 film, Girl Model, shown on 27th June as part of the Storyville series. The film examines how Russian girls as young as 13 years old are shipped off to Japan to find work as models in the country’s fashion industry, where the special preference is for girls who are young looking as well as young. One 15 year old is described as too old, “because she looks 25 already”, one talent scout says.
The girls are invariably from poor families and are recruited by perfectly legal international agencies with the cooperation of the families to work in the glamour modelling industry in Japan which sets a very high premium on youth.
Blonde, slightly built Nadya, whose fate is the main focus of the documentary, says that it was her mother’s idea to take her to an agency. The brutal reality seems to be that parents are selling their daughters before they have even had the chance to grow up and get an education; the girls face moral pressure to work in Japan because they believe that they can get rich quick and then be able to support their families.
The male owner of the agency describes his work in introducing young girls into the modelling industry as a religious vocation; he claims that is offering them undreamed of opportunities to change their lives.
“Before anyone else gets to them, we will have the girls,” is his sinister comment.
Referring to one aspiring candidate, a female talent scout remarks, “She looks pre-pubescent, and that’s ideal for Japan.”
She admits that the business of modelling is based on nothing substantial: “the business is obsessed with youth, you cannot be young enough, youth is beauty and it is innocence that is wanted in Japan”.
The film follows Nadya’s attempt to break into modelling and begins with her family who are already planning to build a new house on the future proceeds of her earnings even before she even leaves. When she arrives in Tokyo, Nadya is provided with a tiny box flat and the first thing she is instructed to do is to take off her shoes. In a stark contrast, the talent scout, an ex-model herself, lives in a huge house and admits that she doesn’t feel too attached to the girls whom she recruits to what is a tough business which she herself deeply hates.
But she seems content that she has made a lot of money out of her work and has been able to buy her house, which is what matters most to her.
She describes a casting session with 200 girls, “out of which we picked 30 great girls”. It is not stated how many of these 30 actually made it big in modelling.
Apart from Nadya, the film follows the experience of another girl Madlen who is first shown in a very distressed state describing how she was not met at Tokyo airport due to some mishap and how she had to find her own way around what to her was an alien city. She spent an hour and a half looking for an exit in the huge subway system and says that she was lost for a total of four hours, speaking into a phone to her family.
For these girls, Japan is a grotesque place. It is a place that always wants something new. In a revealing Freudian slip, the talent scout, who is a woman in her late 20s, says that the agency owner is successful because he really loves young models, before she looks away from the camera. For some reason she seems embarrassed by this revelation. This is the same guy who described his work as a religious vocation.
Describing the attributes of Nadya at a casting session with a potential customer an agent says; “She is new and she has good proportions; she is made well.” Thus, she is seen as noting but a commodity that might sell well in this niche market.
Another experienced model of 23, accompanying the young girls, tries to justify the use of such young models insisting that there is no one to blame for the girls coming into the industry at such a young age. But by using such girls, she admits, it means they don’t want a girl who is shaped like a woman. Crying into the phone, Nadya is later shown telling her mother that she wants to return home, but her mother seems to see this as impossible and retorts that she doesn’t understand, “you have two contracts lined up, don’t you?” Nadya describes how she has been through several casting sessions and doesn’t want to go through the ordeal any further, but is heard unsympathetically by the one person who should be most sympathetic to her plight: her own mother. Nadya is left in the city with no money to even buy food as she was expecting to be hired more quickly.
But it is the scout who betrays the real cruelty and callousness of the whole industry; she hated modelling in Japan herself, but has no scruples about bringing more girls into it. This is a ruthless and deeply depressing story that exposes the terrible fate of girls in Russia today who are not given a chance to grow up, to obtain an education and learn to make the important choices for themselves.
They are thrust into a world where modelling is a socially and culturally accepted cover for what amounts to paedophilia. It is not glamour; it is ruthless exploitation and it has many victims who are left psychologically scarred and worse. This world is indeed a very ugly place.Tags: Asia
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This post was written by David Morgan