Japanese film Midnight Swan, starring Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, former member of the disbanded SMAP, as a transgender woman, was released in Japan last Friday (25 September).
The movie previously dropped the world’s longest trailer — more than 15 minutes long — which generated heated discussions not just because of its whopping length, but also about its story. The controversial film stars Kusanagi as Nagisa who grew up in Hiroshima, but now lives as a woman in Tokyo.
Nagisa’s everyday life takes a blow when her distant relative, a neglected teenager Ichika (portrayed by a new actress Misaki Hattori) comes to stay with her. When they meet, Nagisa tells Ichika in her face that she hates kids and even threatens to kill Ichika if she tells the family about her transition.
As Ichika slowly gets accustomed to living with Nagisa, getting to know Nagisa’s trans woman friends and bringing Nagisa to meet her teachers, she chances upon a dance studio and develops an interest in learning ballet. Ichika also seems to have a talent in ballet, as seen in one scene where the ballet teacher stares with disbelief at the ballet newbie’s form and moves.
Nagisa and Ichika gradually become close, with Nagisa urging Ichika to eat her vegetables, Ichika keeping the house clean and tidy on her own accord, and Ichika teaching Nagisa ballet moves. When Ichika’s classmates insult Nagisa for being transgender, Ichika gives them a cold hard stare before throwing a chair at one of them. On the other hand, Nagisa chuckles in joy when the ballet teacher mistakenly calls her Ichika’s mother.
In a pivotal scene, Nagisa goes to the countryside to take Ichika back so she can resume dancing. “I don’t want to destroy her potential,” says Nagisa. “Let’s go back, Ichika. You can’t stay here. You are meant to dance.”
Midnight Swan claims to be the world’s most beautiful love story — the love between a mother and a child. At the end of the trailer, after the caption that reads “I really wanted to be your mother”, a short-haired Nagisa with man’s clothes and Ichika embrace each other, before Ichika whispers with a tinge of melancholy, “Mum.”
We will not understand the full plot until we can see the movie for ourselves. Although it may be challenging for LGBT-themed stories to take a spot in relatively conservative Asian mainstream cinemas, the popularity of ex-SMAP member Kusanagi may lend some star power to generate enough interest for this emotional film to be shown locally.