“Who do you want to be?”
As we walk through our lives, we are constantly judged by people while we judge them. Even though most of the time there is no real foundation besides the outer appearance, a chance encounter or even an overheard bit of conversation, the evidence seems to be more than enough. Now, no one truly sees anything wrong with this aspect of our lives, especially since most of us know about appearances which can be misleading and our judgment is not always the most objective source of information. However, this way of evaluating people has also become a source of stereotypes as well as social pressure on many people.
In her short film “Yume”, Singaporean director Grace Swee explores this element of our lives. In her statement to the film, she mentions how this kind of judgement, society’s expectations and our self-image can create a sometimes stressful combination for many of us.
At the center of the story, we see high-school student Yume (Atsuko Kikuchi) who has divided her life between two identities. While she is the diligent, eager student in front of her parents (Toshiyuki Kawai and Yuuri Kaburagi), she is also a prostitute after school, making money she saves for herself. Although her parents do not suspect anything, the stress at school, the strict attitude of her father and an argument with one of her clients, keeping the masquerade intact has become quite challenging for her.
Considering her premise, Swee’s film starts off with an interesting conflict for her main character. As one of her clients asks her to change back into her school uniform, a service for which she demands extra money. While the sequence may not seem special at first sight, the following interchange of a tense dinner scene with Yume’s parents and her sitting in a classroom represents the whole extent of Yume’s identities, all of which seem to work separately. Even though the clash is inevitable – her father’s strict questions about her activities after school may foreshadow potential conflicts – the “bubble” of maintaining control over her life is what truly drives Yume.
However, scenes like these also hint at perhaps the most provocative issue Swee touches in her short film. Whereas the iron-clad patriarchy at home keeps the women of the house at bay, it also applies a sense of oversight of the kind of roles females can perform. Toshiyuki’s character’s insistence on advancing in life through performance and grades has brought a great emotional cold to the dinner table, one in which keeping up appearances means the world. Fittingly, since being a prostitute does not fit the performance-oriented gender profile her father talks about, it has enabled a sense of control over her life, along with a source of income which is completely hers.
At the center of the film, carrying the weight of her character’s growing dilemma, is Atsuko Kikuchi as Yume. As each character wears her own uniform, suitable to the role which has to be played, balancing those identities has put her at odds with her surroundings since there is no one she can share her experiences with. Kikuchi shows a wonderful sense for the inner turmoils of her character while also highlighting her need to escape the somewhat backwards ideals of her father’s generation as well as of the society surrounding her.
With only 13 minutes of length “Yume” manages to show a thought-provoking, deeply human take on the idea of (gender) roles in society, one which is not necessarily linked to Japanese culture alone. Based on a great central performance and solid cinematography by Wen Shipei, “Yume” is certainly a film which should be discovered by many viewers.