Burning Bunnies and Kawaii Resistance: On LARME’s 10th Anniversary Video

Burning Bunnies and Kawaii Resistance: On LARME’s 10th Anniversary Video

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LARME and Sylvanian Families controversy
Picture: LARME web site
Japanese fashion magazine LARME pulled a video celebrating its 10th anniversary. But its critics are missing the point.

Japanese fashion magazine LARME recently yanked and apologized for a video intended to celebrate its 10th anniversary. But the backlash misses the point of the production – and, in doing so, attempts to silence women in Japan.

Bunny! Bunny! Burning bright

On the 5th of May LARME magazine released a short promotional video for their 10th Anniversary. In the video, four models, wearing ethereal pastel tulle and brandishing sparkling pistols and parasols, strut down a pink catwalk. The video features voice overs with young women speaking with disdain about sexual assault, harassment and online bulling.

The video juxtaposes these images to a tiny Sylvanian Family (aka Calico Critters) dollhouse, set ablaze.

The toys burn in the densely overpopulated streetscapes of Kabukichō, a red light district in Tokyo. Two Sylvanian Family fuzzy rabbit toys look at each other as they are burnt alive. The flames light up the model’s faces with an orange glow. They give the camera a knowing smile.

塩 on Twitter: “LARMEがシルバニアのお人形とお家燃やしてる動画…酷すぎる。この件を知った時には既にLARME側がインスタの投稿を削除した様だがその一部と思われる物がリールに残っていたので記録。画像と共にエポック社へ報告済。 pic.twitter.com/5JFHLZ4GR7 / Twitter”

LARMEがシルバニアのお人形とお家燃やしてる動画…酷すぎる。この件を知った時には既にLARME側がインスタの投稿を削除した様だがその一部と思われる物がリールに残っていたので記録。画像と共にエポック社へ報告済。 pic.twitter.com/5JFHLZ4GR7

LARME is a fashion magazine that started in 2012, featuring a soft and girly aesthetic and kawaii world created for girls by girls. Here, “girls” refer to a playfully kawaii and assertive disposition and hyper-femme presentation rather than age.

LARME is best known for popularizing “crying” or “sickly” makeup, where blush is placed under the wearer’s eyes. Garments made of soft twinkling tulle, embellished with satin ribbons and ruffles feature on LARME’s pages, as models look wistfully at the viewer. The publishers chose “Larme” (trans. tear) to express this sweet and sad, but also playful and resilient, kawaii aesthetic.

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The Sylvanian Families toy line in happier, pre-immolatory times. (Picture: EPOCH)

With frustration and disdain, the young women in the video’s voiceover rail against aggressive catcalling (nanpa; ナンパ), groping assaults and molestation (chikan; 痴漢), and cyberbullying as “sad” and “gross”. One speaker boldly declares, “without you, I can live a strong life as a woman”.

In disclosing the violence they’ve experienced, another says, “…if I get attacked here and now, no-one will help me. I don’t know how to act. It’s sad, disgusting, and it’s frustrating”.

The video closes with a final statement about isolation and belonging: “My country is also my identity, I was really sad and feel its unforgivable to be denied it. I like Kabukichō because it accepts everyone”.

(See the end of this article for transcription excerpts from the video)

Japan’s #MeToo movement

Chikan (groping assaults) on subway
Picture: :maroke / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

This video forms part of a country-wide rallying cry of #MeToo among women in Japan. As Unseen Japan has covered previously, molestation on public transport is particularly insidious, with perpetrators targeting young women whom they perceive as vulnerable.

Molestation is said to increase during peak exam times in January, where women might be in a hurry and be too stressed to report. School girls are concerned that the time taken to report their assault will impact their school attendance records.

Femme and strong women are also targets of violent cyberbullying. One famous case is Kimura Hana, whose death sparked outcry and a national conversation. Japan’s Ministry of Education (MEXT) has even sought to address bullying as a national issue.

LARME’s video provides an important intervention for their audience, hitting back at the rape cultures that underscore this violence against women. Molesters will often slut shame and blame women for wearing “provocative clothing”. Sometimes, idols, who appear as models in magazines like LARME, are pressured to apologize for their own assaults. The video forms part of kawaii and femme women’s resistance to this culture of blame.

What LARME presents in this experimental video is both kawaii and vengeful. The picturesque dollhouse and its sweet bunny occupants represent the promise of a peaceful womanhood that is sold to girls through kawaii culture. It burns in a trash laden alleyway in Kabukichō, melting and cracking under the flames and toxic smoke.

Throughout the video there are jump cuts to a fashion show, presenting a transcendental, angelic escape from the grim reality of the violence narrated. The video presents a kawaii dystopia, setting flames to our understanding of cuteness. The stuffiness of the domestic house burns, abusers are rightfully shamed, and the models float above the smoke and grime, triumphant and resilient.

Burning dollhouses, Twitter flames

This provocative video has provoked much public commentary in the past few days. But what is surprising is that, rather than speak to the social issues of the video (harassment and assault), folks are more put off by the fuzzy critter arson.

Sylvanian Family was founded in 1985 by Epoch, a Japanese toy company. Originally named “Pleasant Animals of the Forest Epoch Family System”, these line of toys imagines a picturesque world populated by anthropomorphic animals. They’re sold internationally and, for many, are treasured childhood memories.

In Japan there is a lively community of adult collectors who make custom clothing for their fuzzy friends. The toys are considered a very family friendly product. Grinpa Theme Park at Mt Fuji has its own Sylvanian Village attraction. Meanwhile, the Sylvanian Family Kitchen in Saitama offers a kid friendly place to dine and meet these critters in mascot character form.

Fans were enraged to see their beloved childhood toys and LARME’s previous soft and gentle image literally on fire. After severe on Twitter backlash, LARME took the video down.

Across social media, posters complained about how much LARME has changed from its early days, making disparaging remarks about jirai (landmine, 地雷) girls, a fashion movement that began in Kabukichō. Others mention that they think it’s inappropriate to put the suffering of girls to such aggressive imagery.

There are many complaints in particular of the video’s setting in Kabukichō, considered an “unseemly” place for kawaii women. In this reading, “menhera women playing crazy in Kabukichō” have “spoiled” the soft, fluffy world of LARME.

Sylvanian Family fans, seemingly unconcerned by the disclosure of violence in the video, fret about the plight of the little fluffy bunny toys, wondering why they needed to be used for such an avant garde film and why the women “laughed” while these toys burned. Shouldn’t kawaii girls be sweet?

LARME later in the day posts to their Instagram story an announcement, apologizing for the “inappropriate expressions” in the video and announcing they had taken the video down.

This backlash highlights a degree of callousness that the public still holds towards to violence against women. Much of this commentary follows “madonna/whore” binaries, implying that there are good kawaii girls and “fallen” ones, and that LARME has shed its “innocent” halo for a pair of horns. This disregards the messaging of the video, and the nuanced existences women have as autonomous beings, who live outside these labels that society seeks to impose on them.

When kawaii girls resist the roles placed upon them, the response is fast and violent. In many ways, the backlash mirrors the very violence the video complains about.

The backlash also missed the key value this video might offer the new generation of LARME readers. Could this video not be used as an ice-breaker, to embolden young women to continue their discourse around the harassment they experience? Is it wrong for women to experiment with toys as symbols of their own girlhoods? In truth, this approach has long been part of LARME’s philosophy.

“I Am More of a Dystopic than Utopic Person”: Nakagori Haruna, LARME’s visionary

Koakuma Ageha

Some complaints about the 10th anniversary video speak to a change in artistic direction. This fierce video stands opposed to their school girl nostalgia as readers of the magazine during its early issues. But kawaii is actually a dynamic aesthetic, cultural and affective force.

As Professor Akiko Sugawa-Shimada explains, “kawaii is a highly versatile adjective” that women actively experiment with. Likewise, Professor Makiko Iseri encourages us to consider the ways in which women queer and make kawaii strange as a form of self expression and subversion.

Professor Laura Miller has also long documented the many ways women resist, transform and experiment with kawaii, including kogal cultures and tarot. Her edited book Bad Girls of Japan with Professor Jan Bardsley brings together a lively network of experts on women breaking and burning down the rules. Rebellious kawaii isn’t new, but rather a staple of girl cultures in Japan.

What many haven’t realised is that Nakagori Haruna, the magazine’s founder, has always been interested in darkness, and the harsh reality young women face. There is more to her sparkling pink kawaii world than meets the eye.

Part of Nakagori’s inspiration comes from her previous work as an editor for Koakuma Ageha (2005-2014). Ageha was an iconic magazine for hostesses and gyaru alike, and was known at the time for pushing the envelope of acceptable discourse in women’s magazines. Topics covered were often “sickly” (yami, やみ) in nature, exploring issues of trauma, abuse and addiction. For many young women, it was one of the only places they could be “real” with others like them.

In her interview with TV-Asahi for the 10th anniversary event and its fashion show, Nakagori describes herself as “more of a dystopian than utopian person.” Setting the show in Kabukichō was ideal, as to her it is a site where chaotic cultures are born.

For Nakagori, the world she created through LARME has always been shadowed by feelings of sadness and trauma. She wanted to create a space free of men that women could occupy. Toys for Nakagori have always played a key symbolic role in its pages, she explains.

Nakagori says she is particularly inspired by texts like The Poem of Wind and Trees (風と木の詩; 1976-1984) by Keiko Takemiya. This serial BL manga used flowery imagery to explore tragic themes of abuse of power at a time where society shamed women for their bodies and assaults. Nakagori is very familiar with how kawaii can be used to explore serious issues with femme audiences.

Since 2019, LARME has introduced darker styles to its social media and print magazine, including jirai-kei. Some of LARME’s readers might enjoy the pink and black, cute and dark aesthetics of jirai, but to others the fashion is a sign of solidarity among young women with trauma and rage against the social roles assigned to them.

While jirai aesthetics don’t appear in this latest fiery video, its spirit is there, striking the match and tossing it onto the dollhouse with glee.

Frills, Pistols and Glitter: A Guerilla Fashion Show

The video uses clips from LARME’s guerilla fashion show, held on April 20th at Tokyu Kabukichō. Nakagori in an interview for Fashion Snap explains that the outfits took 8 months to complete and that she spent much time and effort in crafting each look.

There is both a playful cuteness and aggression to the performance overall. Powerfully kawaii and in control, the LARME girls walk for an audience of cheering women. To celebrate, guests enjoyed a pink and frilly cake, decorated with corset lacing, angel wings, and two pink pistols. The weapons twinkling with rhinestones are reminiscent of the blinged-out cellphones school girls treasured in the 2000s.

LARME official on TikTok

7.6K Likes, 159 Comments. TikTok video from LARME official (@larmemagazine): “🩷🖤LARME 10周年記念ファッションショー in 歌舞伎町シネシティ広場 #かす #なえなの #景井ひな #佐藤ノア #吉木千沙都 #歌舞伎町 #シネシティ広場 #ファッションショー”. アイドル – YOASOBI.

The models who feature in both this fashion show and the anniversary video are well known idols and style icons, including Femme Fatale members, Senritsu Kanano (戦慄かなの, Twitter @FABkanano) and Tonchiki Sakina (頓知気さきな, Twitter @tonchiki_doll), Risa Doll (中村里砂, Twitter @RISA_DOLL) and previous Clover Z member Ayatsu Sasaki (佐々木彩夏, Instagram @ayaka_sasaki_official).

Senritsu in particular is a rising star and advocate for marginalized young women. As a family violence and school bullying survivor who went through the juveniles reformatory system, Senritsu advocates for the rights of young people. In January 2019, she created a not-for-profit organization for young people experiencing neglect and bullying called bae.

From 2018 Senritsu began studying law in Tokyo by daylight, slaying the catwalk and idol scene by moonlight. Her latest album with Tonchiki as Femme Fatale, F***kin’ Sisters, was released just after the fashion show on 28th April.

femme fatale on Twitter: “【ただいま配信開始】⁰femme fataleニューアルバム「fuckin’ sisters」👯‍♀️✨ただいま配信開始しました💫🎉是非チェックしてね😊🙇🏻‍♂️👍femme fatale 「fuckin’ sisters」https://t.co/mq6JckSNmm pic.twitter.com/b6nqe0e7Ws / Twitter”

【ただいま配信開始】⁰femme fataleニューアルバム「fuckin’ sisters」👯‍♀️✨ただいま配信開始しました💫🎉是非チェックしてね😊🙇🏻‍♂️👍femme fatale 「fuckin’ sisters」https://t.co/mq6JckSNmm pic.twitter.com/b6nqe0e7Ws

The LARME video is disruptive in many respects. Mainly, it challenges ideas of what kawaii is and can be. It brings to the fore the very real violence that young women experience. This violence has always been there, hidden amongst the flowers in the sparkling worlds they create for themselves. Kawaii is both a respite from the precarity young women experience, but also a creative tool of resistance.

With new cute and dark movements on the rise, so too are the dissenting voices of women. Tired and fed up, kawaii women are setting the world aflame in their own way, with their own voice. It’s time for us to stop and listen.

Transcription Excerpts from the LARME Video

Transcriptions courtesy of Rei Saionji.

あなたがいなくても私は一人の女性として強く生きれるから。
何かが減った気持ちになるというか。
もう、ほんとに腹立つんですよ

町を歩いているだけで声…
ナンパ多いじゃないですか。
ウザイですね。
なめられるの、好きじゃないんで。
電車でも痴漢とか、されたりしたことあったんで。
逆上されたら…とか、今ここで襲われたら誰も助けてくれないとか思うと、
どう行動していいかわからなくなって考えちゃいます。
悲しいし、むかつくし、そう見られてる自分にも悔しいし、みたいな。

掲示板とかに、あることないこととか書かれて、
自分好みにしてこようとするの、ちょっと気持ち悪いなって。
たくさんの人が応援してくださってても、その一つの言葉が突き刺さったり、
やってもないことを拡散されて、いろんな人から「この人ってこういう人なんだ」って勘違いされたまま。

国も私のアイデンティティーなのに、否定されるのがほんとに悲しいし許せなかった。

泣いたり笑ったり、くやしがったりとか、いろんな感情を覚えれるというか。

誰でも受け入れてくれる感じが歌舞伎町は好きです。

Idol Yamaguchi Maho Forced to Apologize for Her Own Sexual Assault

Sources

「カワイイ」へ/からの逃亡: 現代社会の「カワイイ」を再考する Bijutsu no Mado

Those naughty teenage girls: Japanese kogals, slang, and media assessments Journal of Linguistic Anthropology

Tantalizing tarot and cute cartomancy in Japan Japanese Studies

Flexible femininities? Queering kawaii in Japanese Studies girl’s culture Twenty-first Century Feminism

「ラルム」が創刊10周年記念イベントを歌舞伎町タワーで開催 ファッションショーを実施 Fashion Snap

シルバニアを燃やした?女性誌企画に批判殺到「本当に悲しい」「許せない」 発行元は謝罪「判断を誤った」. JCast

「できることは全部やる──安定よりも異常で過剰に」中郡暖菜のサボり方. TV Asahi

Setting the cute world on fire: LARME’s 10th Anniversary Fashion Show. Megan Catherine Rose

Released from reformatory, Japanese ‘idol’ launches support group for neglected children. The Japan Times

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Megan Rose

Megan Catherine Rose is an author and artist, and holds a PhD in Social Sciences. She specializes in kawaii and cute cultures and has collaborated with a range of artists, designers and creatives in Tokyo since 2012. She writes about the intersections of kawaii/cute, well-being and feminisms. She is best know for her collaborative work with lived experience experts in Harajuku, but also researches cute media and technologies like cosy games and cyberpets.

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