A few years ago, an exceptionally beautiful young woman sat down next to me in the window seat on a plane. When her long blond hair brushed my face, she apologized – and I saw that her beauty was marred by a black eye. This was such a glaring defect in the otherwise perfect picture she presented with her white dress and aura of purity that I unwittingly began to phantasize about what could have happened to her. Though I tried to conceal my curiosity, she must have felt that I was thinking about her and she soon started to tell me her story. She was returning from Tokyo, and could hardly wait to get back home to her family in Germany. What a silly idea it had been, she confided, to go work in the nightclubs of Tokyo! What came next was an absolutely harrowing story, the drama of how the life of a bright high-school graduate was turned into a living hell for one whole month in Tokyo – by other European women who were also working as hostesses! They were all perched together in tiny apartments, and since the economic slump had made Japanese men less generous than in the past, there was an intense rivalry among the girls. After getting into a fight with two Swedish girls, my acquaintance managed to escape with nothing more than a black eye… I took this girl's adventures as the basis for a plot I had been working on for quite a while already: the story of a young woman who draws a crime story that then actually unfolds before her eyes. I felt that a place like Tokyo, and especially the strange world of the "Mizo Shobai" ("Water Business", the night hostess clubs) would make the perfect setting for this story.
The basic idea of the film was to tell a story in such a way that it meshes completely with the lead character and her passion for comics. The most important aspect for me was not the genre, not the crime story about the missing hostess, but my heroine's journey. All her encounters were to have a sketch-like, slightly "unfinished" feeling. She draws what she sees happening around her, even when she only senses the meaning or importance of what she sees…
Since my heroine's journey takes her to Japan, it's obvious that I had to cope with the clichés of a culture that is quite exotic to Europeans. On the one hand, I wanted to avoid the clichés, but on the other, I was telling the story of a young woman who spends only one week in Tokyo (in a hostess club!). She just skims the surface of this culture. I tried to use this aspect in developing my lead character: her imagination supplements everything that she finds strange and incomprehensible in Japan.
It was difficult to find an actress who could make this credible, since she had to be both very young and very spontaneous. She had to convince us that she could create her own world by drawing comics. We finally found her on the stage of a school theater in Brussels: Chloé Winkel. She embodied just the right "ethereal" atmosphere that was so important for the development of the character. She is definitely not the usual "type" that casting agencies generally look for as an identification figure.
Another matter that had to be determined quite early was the music to be used in the film. I had been listening to a lot of music by Nils Petter Molvaer while I was writing the script. I was particularly fascinated by the fragmentary, transparent feeling of his first recordings. Molvaer's music felt ideal for the narrative form of my script. After I attended one of his concerts in Paris, I was absolutely sure that his music would be perfect for this project.
Incidentally, shortly before I began to shoot the film, an incident occurred in Tokyo that suddenly made my story sadly topical: a young English hostess working in a nightclub in Roppongi was reported missing. While we were shooting in Tokyo, many people actually thought that we were filming the story of this missing hostess, Lucy Blackman.
M.X. Oberg (Director + Writer)