Cotton Candy

Text from Hollywood Japan File:
An outstanding 46 minute film directed by Montreal filmmaker Roshell Bissett (Winter Lily) about an extremely shy and quiet high school girl in Tokyo who is coming of age in a society that offers conflicting images of female sexuality. Naomi (Higashi Yoko) is uncomfortable with her own body. She looks in the mirror and sees a very thin girl with childlike features. At the same time, Naomi is becoming aware that she is surrounded by overtly sexual images of teenage girls in school uniforms. These images are abundant in pornographic comic books that men read on the trains, sleazy late-night TV shows and colorful signs that advertise prostitution.

Naomi is invited to to join a group of girls at her school who date older men for money. Naomi doesn’t seem to have much say in the matter–peer pressure and her own curiosity gets the best of her. A popular student named Tomoko coaches Naomi on how to dress and put on makeup. She later introduces Naomi to her first client, a middle aged salaryman who buys Naomi expensive clothes and takes her on an enjoyable outing to an amusement park. The role of the salaryman is played by talented stage actor Yoshimi Kazutoyo, and he brings a human side to an otherwise despicable character. When the salaryman brings Naomi to a love hotel (“just for a minute”), he is eerily convincing that his intentions are honorable.

Higashi Yoko is wonderful as Naomi, a complex character whose emotions are mostly conveyed without words. There’s a powerful and disturbing scene where Naomi goes to a bura-sera fetish shop in Shibuya that pays cash to young women for used personal items such as underwear, shoes, lipstick, toothbrushes, gum and even buys their saliva. It’s painful to watch the humiliation and confusion on Naomi’s face as she removes her panties in front of a sour-looking man behind the counter, who callously hands ¥30,000.

Filmed in 1995, Cotton Candy was made before all of the media hoopla surrounding enjo kosai (compensated dates), and avoids the superficial characterizations of teenage girls found in later films such as Bounce Ko-gals. Music plays an important role in creating the mood of the film, and the soundtrack includes songs by Serge Gainsbourg, Buffalo Daughter (who also appear in the film) and Canadian band Wandering Lucy.

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