Little Miss Period (Seiri-chan)
Japan (2019) Dir. Shunsuke Shinada
Menstruation. When was the last time you saw a film on this subject? Not just featuring a scene involving it, I mean a whole film? Probably never? Well, if there is one country we can rely on to break this taboo it is of course Japan!
Seiri-chan is in fact the creation of Ken Koyama (yes, a man) whose web manga in which an anthropomorphised representation of this monthly visit for women has proven very popular. Taking the form of a punk fluffy heart-shaped character, Little Miss P comes in different sizes, depending on age and circumstance, and can be either a huge burden or a shoulder to cry on.
This film adaptation from Shunsuke Shinada (also male) is a triptych of sorts, following three women of different ages as they deal with their everyday lives during a visit from Little Miss P. Now, I know this has the potential to be offensive coming from Japan, but it is in fact a light, whimsical, and most importantly, empathetic look at this sensitive topic.
Up first is Aoko (Fumi Nikaido), a young magazine editor sent to persuade a reclusive writer to pen a column for them, but the moment Aoko leaves her office, she gets a visit from Little Miss P which floors her. The next day, Aoko’s boss is angry she failed as the writer had posted negative comments about them on social media, but Aoko is not one to use her period as an excuse for failing – not that her boss would care anyway.
However, this is not Aoko’s only concern – she is dating older widower Yusuke Kubo (Yoshinori Okada) whose 11 year-old daughter Karin (Hana Toyoshima) rejects Aoko’s efforts of friendship at every cost, insisting she nether wants or needs a replacement mother. Yusuke proposes to Aoko but she is hesitant to accept, partly because of her career but also because of Karin’s hostility towards her.
Back at the magazine office, a young cleaner Riho Yamamoto (Sairi Ito) is also playing host to little Miss P. A shy otaku with low self-esteem, Riho struggles to fit in with the real world and vents her spleen through an online blog, though under a pseudonym. By coincidence, Aoko’s colleague Uchiyama (Ren Sudo) is a fan of Riho’s blog and suggests they track her down to write a column instead of the other writer, unaware she is right under their noses.
Eventually, Uchiyama makes the connection when he spots a bespoke character design on Riho’s phone relating to her blog and tries to get her onboard but Riho’s shyness wins out, thinking it must be a conspiracy. Uchiyama’s persistence start to work and upon realising he is also an otaku, Riho begins to think she may have met her Mr. Right – except Uchiyama is just as clumsy with girls as she is with men, and, well you can guess the rest.
Finally, Little Miss P descends upon Aoko’s younger sister Hikaru (Risaki Matsukaze). She is about to take her exams, whilst is also keen to get closer to her boyfriend (Kyohei Kanomi). Is he going to understand what Hikaru is going through? Well, it doesn’t matter as he has his own unwelcome guess Mr. Sex Drive, a white phallic totem prone to bursting into the room at inopportune moments, shouting embarrassing sex related slogans, causing the poor lad to run in shame!
Admittedly, the presence of Mr. Sex Drive and his sometime companion Little Virgin Boy offers more laughs than Little Miss P does. This is Koyama addressing the balance for any woman who may feel teased by his creations, whilst reminding us all that men also have issues that plague us. The two may not compare, but Koyama’s use of humour in this regard reveals the empathetic side of his mission and that he can take a joke on behalf of us chaps.
Whilst the stories are conventional in every aspect with conclusions we can see coming a mile off, this approach serves a purpose in clarifying Koyama’s intention on educating us ignorant men about this subject, by making it easy to understand. He could have gone all out with the wackiness and been completely graphic and vulgar with it, but the tone is a sympathetic one but characteristically simplistic as is the Japanese way in tackling thorny subjects in an accessible manner.
Not that the sight of Aoko carrying a giant pink fluffy beast on her back, Riho pushing hers around in her cleaning cart, or Hikaru’s gonk-sized visitor sitting on her shoulder isn’t sufficiently amusing or surreal, but some may argue the cuteness undermines the seriousness of the situation but it doesn’t. Putting the characters in familiar situations is a straightforward way normalises things, emphasising how natural and indiscriminate periods are for women, and by extension, sexual worries for men.
Relatable characters are the other key factor to the film’s effectiveness, with sufficient scope, even in the three examples offered here, for audiences to find their own kindred spirit. The general normality of the script means the cast aren’t stretched too much, although it does allow Fumi Nikaido to demonstrate her versatility in a leading role after years appearing in more challenging fare, whilst Sairi Ito provided the most engaging turn as Riho, partially as her unconfident, loner character was most resonant for me.
If the poster artwork seems misleading in suggesting a fluffy quirky comedy awaits, it is understandable if the film’s easy going tone and presentation disappoints, but at just 75-minutes long, it doesn’t take up that much of your time to feel like it was wasted. It may not be overtly instructive yet wisely avoids being didactic and direct, this gentle subtle approach means discussing periods doesn’t encroach on the storylines.
Little Miss Period probably could – and should – have been a paradigm shifter given its topic but in many ways we should be thankful it isn’t. Short, surprisingly sweet, and oddly cute fun.
Currently streaming as part of the The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme Online Festival Feb 19th – Mar 10th