Published Apr 12, 2012This documentary follows two characters working in the same industry: teenage modelling in Japan. Nadya is a 13-year-old girl who escapes remote Siberia to earn money for her poor family. Ashley is a jaded modelling scout who recruits girls like Nadya to ship to the Japanese market where willowy, blonde teenagers pose for fashion magazines and ads.
The directors allow Nadya to talk to the camera, revealing her homesickness and loneliness, while Ashley (not co-director Sabin) confesses her deep ambivalence about this business, which trades in young flesh, glamour and media imagery. Ashley was once a model, but has grown cynical. Nadya remains innocent, but grows disillusioned by the scarcity of jobs and the deep debt owes the agency for flying her in. She also struggles with culture shock, having left her crowded, old home in the countryside for a high-tech shoebox in central Tokyo. Nothing is real.
Nadya is the more interesting of the two characters, because she goes on a journey and changes, grows wiser. Ashley is a one-note character, albeit frank and vulnerable, at times.
As a character study, Girl Model is strong, but lacks revelations; I'm not sure what it's trying to say. Girl modelling in Japan is a sleazy business, yes, but all show business is exploitative. After all, Nadya is free to return home whenever she wants and her parents are in constant contact with her. This is the same family that is planning to build a new bedroom based on Nadya's modelling wages. Aren't they exploiting her?
Other characters add colour, but are few and far between. The owner of the modelling agency is surprisingly upfront about the challenges his models face, but what about the photographers or other models? Perhaps more screen time of Nadya's worried mother might have helped. Otherwise, they say little and not enough contradictions or questions are raised. (Kinosmith)