Tokyo is a city that throws up surprises every time we seem to step out the door.
Created by photographer and filmmaker Maaserhit Honda and British model Dean Newcombe, ‘I AM MODEL’ is a series of tongue-in-cheek videos tracing the exploits of a foreign model lost in the bright lights of Tokyo. After walking into Shibuya, he becomes disorientated. The more lost he becomes, the more he transforms. Eventually he morphs into the ‘Avatar Man’!
Who (or what) is the Avatar Man? And just what is he doing running around Omotesando? We spoke with Maaserhit Honda to find our more.
Was is the basic concept behind the “I AM MODEL” series?
It’s a very simple concept. We wanted to poke fun at the modeling and show-business industry. Our character is a lost model in Tokyo, and we see the world through his eyes. It’s a comedy but it’s also a documentary (or rather, mockumentary) that tells the true story about the whole industry in Japan.
How did you and Dean come to meet and know each other?
I met Dean back when I was a model manager — I was his manager, and I witnessed what he was experiencing. We bonded over that, became friends and later when I stopped working as a model manager I wanted to make a laugh out of it. I came from a documentary filmmaking background, so it was an experience for me as a filmmaker to poke fun at it.
It’s rare to see a mockumentary in Japan. Although it all looks very chic and nicely made, you’re not taking things seriously, are you?
I was in so many ridiculous situations and so was Dean as a model, so we wanted to re-create that into a half documentary, half mockumentary film. I used to live in the UK, so I picked up the sarcastic sense of humor.
And the inspiration and ideas for the humor comes directly from the industry? It’s a sort of satire?
Whenever Dean and I meet, we just joke around and both of our experiences and background in the industry inspired us to make something positive out of it. Instead of complaining about it, we turned it into a fun, playful thing.
It is certainly playful but nonetheless we were impressed by the production values. Was it tough to shoot the third episode, ‘Avatar Man’, in Omotesando?
Yes and no. The production crew is very limited. I’m the producer, DOP, director, editor and music composer, and Dean is the actor. There’s no production value whatsoever, we don’t have any kind of budget. We’re really busy, this is not our main job — but we both have a passion and we just made it happen. It’s a very exciting style of filmmaking, but also very difficult because we can only do so much with limited resources. Shooting in a busy place with unexpected circumstances is quite hard, but the concept was just to see how it goes naturally, we didn’t worry so much about what was going to happen.
It’s kind of guerilla, then. Did you get any strange responses? Or did you have any problems?
Definitely. Some people did mention things and got irritated while we were shooting, but that’s part of the whole essence of the movie. We were expecting to have problems but we liked capturing those reactions and included them, and the surprise factor. But at the same time, we understand the moral and culture, so the question is how to make the right judgment in every frame.
The make-up and hair styling is incredible. Can you tell us where the idea came from? Why such a costume?
The styling and makeup originally came from Dean’s actual modeling job. He was part of a show that night in Shibuya, all styled and made up already as that character. So whenever Dean has to undergo those kinds of insane costumes or makeup as part of his job, he calls me up and we start shooting. So basically we wanted to take it a step further — Dean couldn’t just go home and shower, we had to do something with it through the idea of ‘I AM MODEL’ in Japan.
What are your future plans for the series?
We’re aiming to turn this into a TV series, and we’re definitely planning to continue the series. It’s interesting to see the cultural point of view in Japan, and also Japanese trends. The upcoming episodes will feature Dean (and other models) in those absurd situations, which relate to daily life in Japan.
Thank you, Maaserhit Honda!
Look out for further episodes of the ‘I AM MODEL’ series very soon!
I AM MODEL
Music: Named Red
Body Paint Artist: Kenji Sato
Body Paint Artist: Setsuko Kakurai Umennachi
Hair Styling: ZA/ZA