Pyuupiru 2001-2008

Pyuupiru 2001-2008


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

As much a personal saga as a fashion designer profile, this is a film made by a close friend of its subject and knitted together from material assembled over a seven-year period; it's not clear whether the end product was in sight when the journey began. This creates interesting parallels between the filmmaker and subject which give an added dimension to what might otherwise - for all its exotic content - have been a familiar story.

When we begin, Pyuupiru is a sweet-natured Japanese twentysomething with an affectionate but concerned family, a warehouse style apartment full of fantastic visual creations and what seems like very little direction in life. This is perhaps understandable. She's the youngest of several children and has found it fairly easy to drift through life with casual jobs and nothing to intrude on her childlike imagination. The fact she has had to contend with the social awkwardness of growing up as a boy has been balanced by the discovery of a club scene that adores her. Yet her evident talent is taking her nowhere. As the story continues we see that gradually begin to change, and her discovery of what it means to become a professional artist is matched by her gradual reinterpretation of herself as a human being.

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The name 'pyuupiru' is originally invented for a cartoon character; cartoons are a popular means of escapism for young Japanese transgender people. When becoming more feminine seems to represent an impossible challenge, perhaps becoming more like the cartoon will provide an acceptable alternative. This influences Pyuupiru's choices as a designer, with costumes that exaggerate feminine characteristics yet include a striking element of the alien; they're wonderful, eye-catching works, all knitted by hand, yet their appeal is curiously asexual. Pyuupiru would like a sexual relationship, a romance, but finds it difficult to engage or to find somebody who will accept her as she is.

There are occasional hints about her deep regret at not being able to have children, a far bigger deal in traditional Japanese culture than variant gender identity or sexual preferences. Some of her garments suggest pregnancy, leading up to an extraordinary final performance that thrusts sudden emotion into what has, by then, become a somewhat slow, meandering film.

This is an extraordinarily personal story. For those who have always wanted to know about transsexualism but were afraid to ask, it addresses certain personal medical issues in far greater depth than most of those going through them would feel comfortable with. This is just one aspect of Pyuupiru's unusual openness, a quality both endearing and worrying. Her art seems to stem from her vulnerability and there's a constant sense that she's heading for heartbreak, yet increasingly she seems to know what she's doing. Meanwhile her family are carried along in the tide, at first stressing familiar priorities - get a proper job, think about the future, you can't live like this forever - but gradually developing a sense of pride at their child's achievements. Gradually shifting use of language reflects the outside world's shifting perception of Pyuupiru's identity, but what gives this more depth than the standard transition story is the complexity of that identity and the way in which it is interwoven with her creativity.

Though the pacing isn't great and there are places where this film really drags, overall it's an intriguing portrait of an unusual artist at an early stage in her career. One hopes that the subtitle means we can look forward to further installments.

Reviewed on: 26 Jan 2011
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A documentary exploring the extraordinary career of a transgender designer whose brilliant work gained her cult status.
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Director: Daishi Matsunaga

Starring: Pyuupiru

Year: 2008

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Japan


Glasgow 2011

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