Interviews, Rants, Feelings & Opinions

Videophobia Confronts Consent in the Digital Age

October 24, 2019

Have you been the victim of so-called “revenge porn”? Troy Michael Bordun talks to director Daisuke Miyazaki about his new film, which contends with this uniquely digital problem—as well as the attendant anxieties, legislative missteps, and stigma.

Circulating sex videos of you and your lover(s) can be hot and intimate when all parties consent to it. Sharing those videos without permission, however, is an ongoing and horrendous trend, and we rarely see how it affects the victims. 

Japanese director Daisuke Miyazaki weighs in on this form of online sexual harassment in Videophobia (2019). In this slow-burning, Osaka-set fiction film, a melancholic young woman named Ai (Tomona Hirota) meets an attractive young man (Shûgo Oshinari) while out at the club. Ai and the unnamed man go back to what appears to be his apartment and have sex on the couch. Nothing out of the ordinary yet.

Some days later, while browsing a porn site, Ai discovers a video with an all too familiar setting and cast. By placing an old 8mm camera on a nearby shelf—a camera Ai noticed but didn’t think much of at the time—the man had secretly filmed her one night stand. 

Furious, Ai returns to the man’s apartment to ask him about the camera and, presumably, to confront him about the uploaded video. The man, unaware that Ai has discovered the video, simply informs her that the camera no longer functions, so Ai doesn’t bother to address the sex tape. Later, after reviewing the video a second time, Ai notes that the camera cannot be fixed to the shelf as the video now shows a close-up of herself acknowledging its presence. This perhaps suggests that the filming was consensual but its circulation was not. She again returns to the man’s apartment only to discover that he has gone—his “place” is an Airbnb. 

Ai then seeks the help of the law as well as a trauma support group, but neither make her feel any better. Only a new face, Yu (Sumire Ashina), and a new persona, will give Ai peace of mind. 

Although Miyazaki is troubled by the real-world inspirations for the film, when I spoke to him at Montréal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, he was in good spirits. We discussed Videophobia’s production, why it was important to make this film in 2019, and his hopes for the future.   

Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?

Osaka is a very Chinese city. People wear gold clothes, rainbows… The city has lots of neon, lots of colors. Most people try to film it like that. Ridley Scott tried to do that, John Woo did the same. For me, Osaka is black and white. It’s full of water: river, ocean… Black and white water is very fascinating. So instead of strong colors, I filmed this way to show the water moving and mixing up, showing or reflecting something.

In an earlier interview, I read that you try not to put too much pressure on actors. Tell me about your approach to directing Tomona Hirota as Ai.

Usually I try not to pressure the actors, but this time I tried to. I wanted nervous energy and a tense atmosphere for this movie. Normally I’m a chill guy—on the set I drink coke and sit and smile. This time I was a bit of an asshole of a director. I think it worked. They all look very nervous in the film.

So who is Ai? She’s reclusive and reserved, even from the very start of your film, as she’s shown having a consensual, online sexual encounter.

In the first sequence, she’s just interacting in a video chat. She’s not selling her video or anything. The idea was that even people who look quiet, melancholic, and nihilistic still have a sexual aspect. In the beginning, Ai is very depressed, but she’s a typical woman living in Japan. Or it could be the USA, or Germany, or Indonesia, or wherever. She’s someone living in this world. 

In the West, the non-consensual circulation of private videos happens often as well. Do you think your film has this universal appeal? 

Five or so years ago in Japan, guys were leaking videos online, stalking their ex-girlfriends, and even killing them. It became a big social topic. They made a law that you can’t do this in Japan. I don’t hear about it as much these days, but it’s likely still going on. But thinking about this kind of universal appeal in my film, today you can connect with anyone, you can show yourself anywhere—Youtube, blogs, Twitter—but the question is still: “Who are you? Who’s the real you?”

When Ai seeks the help of the law, she discovers that they aren’t much help. Did you research the process of how victims seek the help of police?

 Yes, in Japan, I heard the process goes similar to how I showed it in the film. The police want to do an interview [with the survivor], but the interview easily becomes sexual harassment: if the police ask and listen too much it becomes a kind of sexual harassment. It’s the same everywhere—it’s hard to do the correct thing. I wanted to show this kind of irony—why can’t we just help people?

The officer tries to offer helpful statements but misses the traumatic effect the video has on Ai. She mentions to Ai that the web has an abundance of videos, that her video is a drop in the bucket and no one will recognize her. But the video haunts Ai. Would you say these videos are specters or ghosts that haunt the living?

Yes, you are very sure it is your video, but if someone else sees it, they are not so sure. With deepfakes, for example, the face obviously looks like the celebrity but we can’t tell if it’s real or not. But you know whether it’s you or not caught on video. But no one gives a shit, videos can be changed with computers. It’s very scary. With changing technology, it becomes very postmodern. Now we can’t tell who we are.

Ai seems to find herself in the last act. Yet the end of the film is abrupt and ambiguous. We see a close-up, Yu’s lover’s hand on her shoulder, then it’s over. Does this suggest that she still has not recovered and she will never forget the video?

That’s one way of understanding the last scene. With a hug or touching hands with someone, I feel like I am obviously different from them—I know myself and the other person. But this is complicated in the film. That final touch on Yu’s shoulder may be the hand of her lover but her lover could also be the guy who shot the video. There are lots of possibilities in that ending.

The end is even more ambiguous if we go back to some of the mantras we heard earlier. Ai’s acting coach told his students to “Become the opposite of who you are,” which she tries to do in the last act. But the trauma support group tells her, “You yourself haven’t changed at all.” So you can be the opposite but at the same time, you’re still the same. I like this paradox that you set up.

Yes, yes. [laughs]

To wrap up, are you hoping that your film will change people’s perceptions about the trauma associated with media-related sexual abuse? Or that men will stop making these videos?

To be honest, I don’t think the movie can stop this kind of barbarian act in the world. But maybe it will show a tiny light to some people. The only thing that we can do is live with someone, feel someone, feel someone close to you. That’s what I believe recently. Being with someone can help you determine who you are. I’m not sure you can fully recover from a trauma such as Ai’s, but being with someone could help. 

Troy Michael Bordun is a contract instructor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and Trent University Durham, Oshawa, Ontario. He has a forthcoming book chapter in Screening Scarlett Johansson: Gender, Genre, Stardom (Palgrave MacMillan, 2020).  

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