Little Miss Period (2019) Review

Introduction

While Japan has many absurd manga-narratives, Ken Koyama’s manga Seiri-chan, a narrative exploring the impact menstruation has on the female subject, is, contrary to what its visualization of menstruation as a heart-shaped entity implies, not one of them. Filled with immensely relatable moments and situations, Koyama’s Seiri-chan quickly gained widespread popularity among women. And now, due to her continued popularity, Seiri-chan has finally on the silver screen.

Review

One day, editor Aoko (Nikaido Fumi) proposes her boss to take over Yamauchi (Ren Sudo)’s responsibility and visit column-writer Altair Tanaka to get an update on her forthcoming column. Sadly, due to the sudden appearance of Seiri-chan, she causes Altair to withdraw as a columnist.

Even though the menstruation affects Aoko’s younger sister Hikaru (Risaki Matsukaze), causing her to fumble her mock-up test, the impact her period has on her functioning is only mild. Her boyfriend, for that matter, suffers from concentration problems as Hikaru’s presence inflames his sexual drive.

Yamamoto (Sairi Itoh), a part-time cleaner in the building where the publishing company is located, is also a fervent blogger. Under the pseudonym Nomiko Nieyu, she expresses sharp criticism on the businessmen that populate her work-environment.

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Even though Little Miss Period has romance and comedy elements, it is essentially a quirky slice-of-life narrative. But while slice-of-life narratives generally focus on one character, Little Miss Period focuses on the evolution of three different relational structures: the relational structure of Aoko, her widowed lover Yusuke Kubo, and his daughter Karin (Toyoshima Hana), the relational dynamic between Hikaru and her boyfriend (Kyohei Kanomi), and, last but not least, Yamamoto’s bystander-position.

The quirkiness of the narrative is to be found in the peculiar aspect that powers the unfolding of the different plots: the menstruation. While this element has appeared in many other movies, it might very well be the first time that the monthly visit structures the plot as such. That the narrative of Little Miss Period aims to approach this ‘odd’ element in a lighthearted way is immediately made clear by the cute way the menstruation is personified.

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Even though this personification enables Shinada to create some truly funny moments, it also allows the director to visualize the various consequences of having a period in an informative way. The first consequence, of course, concerns the physical impact of this natural phenomenon as such. The personification truly succeeds in making various menstruation-symptoms very sensible for men – and instantly recognizable for women (General-note 1).

Another consequence, a consequence visualized in Aoko’s narrative, concerns the impact the period has on the functioning of the female subject as such. By visualizing this impact, Little Miss Sunshine also underlines how the structure of work, a structure marked by responsibilities and results, quite often leads those in command to have no consideration for the discomfort caused by this bodily occurrence (Narra-note 1). Such disregarding become all the more problematic when it is able to fuel sexism.

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While the aforementioned work-related dimension is touched upon in Aoko’s story, her narrative actually focuses on the problematic relationship she has with Karin. Despite her best efforts to be accepted as her new mother-figure, Karin refuses to accept her (Narra-note 2). The main reason for Karin’s refusal is to be found in her belief that Aoko wants to replace her mother, something that is structurally impossible. Given the narrative’s theme, it is not too difficult to figure out what element will allow Karin to bond with Aoko. Luckily Shinada’s succeeds in framing the realization of this bonding in a touching and heartwarming way.

Turning to Yamamoto’s narrative, we can immediately discerns two dimensions that govern her sharp commentary. The first dimension concerns the imaginary, i.e. the way people try to impress others through the image they drape themselves in. One victim of her criticism concerns a businessmen who, while calling, uses various outlandish expressions in order to impress surrounding bystanders with his coolness. The second dimension concerns the effacing of subjectivity she, as janitor, is often subjected to. In other words, in the eyes of many businessmen, those businessmen who fail to call her by her name and use signifiers like ‘janitor’ instead, she is just a mere faceless presence.

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Both the aforementioned dimensions as well as her passive (spectator-)presence are function of one simple destructive element: the fact that she doesn’t believe she has any worth as a woman. Even though she desires recognition, this deep-rooted belief makes it almost impossible for her to take a man who notices her as female subject seriously (Psycho-note 1, psycho-note 2).

In Hikaru’s narrative thread, it is not only her period that forms the focus, but also her boyfriend’s blossoming sexual interest in her. This sexual interest, just as it is the case with women’s monthly visitor, is visualized and personified by libido-kun, who vaguely resembles a male sexual organ. What stands out in this personification is the commanding dimension Libido-kun’s vocalizations (e.g. camel-toe, threesome, squirt, god finger) have. This commanding dimension beautifully translates the fact that the sexual drive drives us beyond our control, regardless of our conscious desire (Narra-note 3, Theme-note 1).

Little Miss Period’s cinematography consists mainly out of a mix of semi-fixed shots and fluid following shots. Every shot, even those that approach fixity, is marked by a level of movement. While Shinada’s use of cinematographical movement does not give the narrative a documentary-feel, his reliance on movement does make his composition a pleasing fluidly flowing experience. Another aspect that heightens the visual pleasure is the thoughtful lightning-design. Due to this design, the colours are given a pleasing softness, which, in turn, makes the concatenation of images very easy to watch.

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There is also a cinematographical element that empowers the visualization of the period in Little Miss Period. In order to express something about this crazy little thing called menstruation, Shinada applies in two instances aesthetic elements belonging to other genres. In the first instance, Shinada uses horror visuals to highlight that the period, while most of the time unwanted, is inescapable and hits – in this movie quite literally –  the female subject whenever its time has come (Cine-note 1). Its ‘horrifying’ quality is thus precisely to be found in the fact that this natural occurrence shows no respect whatsoever for the social schedule of the female subject. 

The lighthearted nature of Little Miss Period is most evident by the various playful musical pieces that support the narrative’s unfolding. But the role music plays in this narrative is not limited to keeping the mood light. Music is also successfully used to empower the varied emotions our characters feel – i.e. their moments of hopefulness as well as the moments of bitter disappointment . But while the musical accompaniment plays an important role in making these emotions more sensible, these emotions are, first and foremost, function of the fitting acting-performances of our female leads

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While it seemed impossible to make a compelling and touching narrative about menstruation, Little Miss Period proves, in a convincing way, that it is possible. Little Miss Period succeeds in captivating the spectator not because of the quirky way bodily phenomena are visualized as such, but because these visualizations enable a visual and emotionally rich experience of what it means to have, as woman, the period and, as men, a flaring sexual drive.

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Notes

Narra-note 1: Nevertheless, as one female character underlines, one should not blame one’s failure solely on one’s period.

Thinking this further through, we could say that using one’s period as an explanation/excuse for failure always ends up sounding as an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for said failure.

Narra-note 2: Other reasons for her refusal, as is subtle implied in the narrative, can be found in her father’s failure to underline the irreplaceability and the importance of his deceased wife for him as for her as well as Aoko’s failure to underline the fact that she can never replace her mother.

Narra-note 3: Yamauchi is followed by a special kind of personification, Little Boy Virgin. Note that this personification differs from Seiri-chan and Mr. Sex drive because it doesn’t refer to a bodily occurrence, but a bodily state.

General-note 1: This unobtrusive educative visualization might very well be able to lead men to a better understanding of how much of an impact this natural phenomenon can have on the female subject.

Theme-note 1: Besides showing that the unspoken (e.g. menstruation, sexual drive) is always able to influence our interactions with another, the narrative also touches upon the fact that these bodily phenomena can form the basis for a genuine bond.  

Psycho-note 1: To call someone by one’s name, as is made clear in the narrative, is the most important step at satisfying the subject’s desire for recognition.

Psycho-note 2: We could argue that Yamamoto’s sharp criticism of others is, in a certain way, a projection of her problematic self-(body)-image onto the other. And in some cases, one can easily discern an aspect of envy speaking in her criticisms.

Cine-note 1: A thriller-like element, i.e. music reminiscent of Jaws, is also applied in one instance.

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