Inside the mind and movement of world-class pole athlete, Pinoko.
Japan has cultivated a legacy for fostering powerfully creative women who are disarming in their understated ways. Throughout the nation’s history, focussed, ambitious females have changed the shape of the country’s cultural evolution.
In the 11th Century, Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji (源氏物語) a literary epic, considered to be the blueprint for the modern novel. Despite her immense talents, Shikibu was not lauded for her intellect as she so deserved. As a child, she was precocious, an avid scholar of Chinese. But as she grew older, she muted her ambitions to avoid the contempt heaped upon overly ambitious women of the time.
Born in 1910, Misako Shirasu was raised as a woman of the arts. Although she grew up in privilege, she also knew the importance of not merely adhering to the status quo. She began studying Noh theater at age four and by the time she was just 14 she shook the foundations of traditionalist Noh theatre to its core by becoming the first female to perform on the Noh stage. Later in life she once again fuelled by her self-belief explored a multitude of creative career opportunities and became an essayist and expert on aesthetics and design.
In 2018, film Director Aki Mizutani and pole dancer Pinoko created a short film that challenged the ignorant assumptions of the sport of pole dancing. The film was a statement piece; its raison d'etre was to make clear that such women are not only powerful because they have a passion, drive, and talent; but because they have to face the stigma of their creative avenues and carry on despite them.
“Young people don’t be afraid. Be focused. Be determined. Be hopeful. Be empowered.” These words are now forever immortalized in Michelle Obama’s final speech as a first lady. These words were also the catalyst for Mizutani to conceptualize Pinoko as a short film that would investigate the narrative of “strong women.”
Simply put, “the words moved me,” Mizutani says. As a filmmaker, she had her work cut out for her. There’s so much more depth and nuance to exploring the inherent power found in womanhood. The female experience is as individualistic as every female-identifying person on the planet. “[The female form of power] I wanted to portray was not the dramatized heroic woman who fights alone against society” explains Mizutani. “But the woman who fights against herself and takes the small steps every day to make herself what she wants to be.”
For many women across the globe - including in Japan - simply existing outside the preconceived ideas of the ‘norm’ is a small protest, a symbol of resistance, resilience, and power.
Mizutani’s hunt for the ideal subject for her film led her to Pinoko, who’s a pole dancer, an athlete with superhuman abilities, and the epitome of modern female empowerment.
“I met Pinoko through Kotaro Saito, who is the composer for this film. Pinoko is one of the top pole dancers in Asia.”
A born performer, Pinoko has traveled the world, redefining people’s expectations on what a pole dancer, a mother, a woman is, and can be. “At first glance, she is petite and cute, but when she takes off her clothes, you can see just how strong she is,” says Mizutani.
When Pinoko commands the audience’s attention, all predetermined assumptions - about gender, power, sexuality, athleticism - are out the window. “She wins over her audience by going beyond the erotic performance one might expect from pole dancing.” Explains Mizutani “A feminine expression. Warm, elastic, fierce.”
This film, co-produced by Cutters Studios and Toboggan Inc, is the creative collision of two great artistic minds defying expectations and creating society challenging work. Like all great artists, Pinoko’s body is a vessel through which her creative expression travels.
The film embodies Pinoko’s own internal battle with fear when attempting to push her limits as an artist and as an athlete. Watching her dance is watching her tread the meticulously choreographed space between chaos and restraint.
The film can also be viewed as an analogy for recognizing the inherent power in harnessing one’s femininity.
I dance because that's what keeps me alive.
“The day we shot this film,” says Mizutani “her baby had just started his life in Pinoko’s belly which she didn’t even know that day.”
Photographer Alex Thomas captured the power of motherhood in a collection of intimate portraits taken of Pinoko and her son at her light-flooded Nakameguro studio.
Just one and a half months after giving birth in April 2018, Pinoko was back on stage, performing as part of the "Star Island 2018", event, a futuristic public festival in Tokyo.“I take this fact as a symbolic meaning of women’s lives,” says Mizutani.
We change, we embrace, and we keep going.
Performance by Pinoko
Directed by Aki Mizutani
Executive Producer: Kaz Shinagawa
Composer: Kotaro Saito
Director of Cinematography: Toshihiko Kizu
Producer: Yoshi Kuremura
Camera Operator: Koichi Furuya, Hiroshi Matsuzaki, Ivan Kovac
1st Assistant Camera: Minami Moriyama
Gaffer: Taiki Takai
Lighting Technician: Keijiro Akiyama, Yoshitoshi Miyahara
Production Manager: So Matsufuji
Production Assistant: Rose Nicholson
Stylist: Akane Makihara
Costume Designer: Yukari Furuta
Hair & Make up: Atsushi Yamaguchi
Mask Artist: Cota Mori
DIT: Rina Takeuchi
Colorist: Toshiki Kamei
VFX/Online Editor: Dr. Yu
Post Production Assistant: Mariko Ide, Federico Capogreco, Sachi Sasaki
Camera Provided by: Panasonic
Special Thanks to: Takahiro Mitsui, Shi-ko & Pole & Aerial Studio Polish
Produced by Cutters Studios