The old woman’s skin shows us how to tell a great story with a short film.
The perfect short film is exactly the length to tell the story. The charming 20-minute story of filmmaker Hiroki Inoue accurately captures the world of its main character.
A modern theme from an ancient story
While the story is based on the Fukushima fairy tale “Oppa no Kawa”, the focus of the film is the very current experience of a woman fighting in a modern society that values her appearance alone.
Before moving from her hometown of Mishima, Fukushima Prefecture, to Tokyo, the main character Kyoko makes a stop at Tsuchiyu Onsen, where a mysterious shopkeeper presents her with an “old woman’s skin” which she can turn into an old woman if she puts it on.
See the full executive summary below:
The main character Kyoko (played by Konatsu Kato) suffers from shyness and social anxiety, partly caused by a lifetime of unwanted attention from men. The filmmaker gets to the point without making the exposure boring. While Kyoko waits for her friend / sister, they are harassed by two men. From their faces and their reaction, we immediately understand two things: Kyoko does this all the time, and she doesn’t have good methods of dealing with it.
As an audience, we feel with Kyoko. Kato’s performance and Inoue’s direction allow us to promote her – while also hoping that she can become a stronger character to face those around her.
You can actually read Ao Omae’s short story based on the folk tale Here. It formed the adaptation of Inoue’s film.
Convincing mix of light, drama and prosthetics to create… magic
It wouldn’t be a magical fairy tale if there wasn’t a little magic involved! The old woman’s skin is essentially a realistic world – with one major exception. The shopkeeper and the magical skin she gives Kyoko. To achieve this deviation from reality, the filmmaker and cameraman use subtle light stimuli to make the shift. Together with the change of light, the costume and the make-up, the adorable actors of Hairi Katagiri unite to create a more bizarre world in which reality can be turned upside down.
Later in the film, Kyoko takes what looks like a simple costume mask and wig. But when she decides to put the mask on, some subtle VFX transform her into her real skin and face. (And a compelling short performance by actress Keiko Takahashi as the same Kyoko in a new skin.)
It’s difficult to get such an effect in a short film because you risk interrupting the story. Here the filmmaking team is able to show the transformation in the foreground, keeping the magic and moving the story forward.
Use strong images to tell the story
Visually, the filmmaker uses images to tell the story succinctly.
For example, to perfectly convey Kyoko’s feelings towards her new employee, the filmmaker uses the imagery of strawberries. Kyoko looks lovingly at Fujisaki (played by Kenta Hamano) while eating an oddly shaped strawberry.
“It doesn’t look nice, but it’s delicious,” he says. The strawberry itself looks a little different than a regular supermarket variety, but both characters chew on the delicious fruit.
From this visual we understand everything about what the character Kyoko is thinking.
The film is also steeped in Japan’s rich imagery, ranging from the more picturesque landscape of Mishima in Fukushima Prefecture to the towering modern buildings of Tokyo where Kyoko switches to work. We can get a glimpse of small town life versus big city, which adds another layer to the movie. Fukushima Prefecture was devastated by the great earthquake in eastern Japan 10 years ago.
While none of this is mentioned overtly in the film, it serves as another layer of the story for the audience to appreciate.
From the beginning, The old woman’s skin turns the story into an entertaining ride for the audience. With strong imagery, good acting, and a magical direction, the film challenges us to reconsider our judgments of others and think more about them what is inside.
What would you find out if you could apply someone else’s skin?
The old woman’s skin was created from a story assignment from the Japan Cultural Expo project to harness the essence of the culture and stories dormant in different areas of Japan. It is presented by the Japan Cultural Expo Project, Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Government, Japan Arts Council, and SSFF & ASIA.
Read more about this film and others in the program, Here.