New York City was frequently touted as the fifth character in the hit HBO television show “Sex and the City” and, in much the same way, Tokyo plays a starring role in new Netflix series “Followers” (stylized as “FOLLOWERS”).
Directed by Mika Ninagawa, whose taste for the bright and beautiful is fully on display, the show focuses on women working and living in the Japanese capital.
It is a heightened, glitzy version of the city, however, that’s more like an Instagram influencer’s fantasy world. Everyone has a bold sense of fashion (wearing cut-off shorts and denim chaps while delivering for Uber Eats? Showing up in a crop top to a meeting with a potential employer?) and everything from the bursting cherry blossom trees to the eye-popping red-carpet events is bathed in a lush, fairy tale glow. Sure, the characters drink cheap canned cocktails and eat nattō (fermented soybean) rolls like the rest of us, but they also hang out in tourist hot spots like the teamLab digital art exhibition in Odaiba and the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku, and interact with a glittering roster of celebrities, who are personal friends of the director and make frequent cameos.
The nine-episode series centers on Limi Nara (Miki Nakatani), an ambitious and in-demand fashion photographer in her late 30s. Limi struts into photo shoots in high- heeled Louboutins with the confidence of a woman who loves and excels at her job. She’s living a glamorous life with a tight circle of similarly accomplished friends, including her manager Yuruco (Nobuaki Kaneko) who is a close confidant.
In contrast, Natsume Hyakuta (Elaiza Ikeda) is a struggling actress in her 20s who can only seem to land roles as corpses; a sign that her career is in need of resurrection. That comes as little surprise, however, as Natsume spends a great deal of time scowling and complaining to her friends about her lack of likes and followers on social media, rather than demonstrating a passion for her chosen profession. Natsume scores an unexpected break when Limi snaps a candid photograph of her, looking angry and showing a streak of rebellion after being talked down to by a production assistant, and posts it on Instagram. Suddenly Natsume is a rising star, racking up approval from strangers on the internet.
Natsume’s popularity increases, allowing her to land modeling gigs and invitations to fashion events. Limi, who saw a glimpse of her younger self in Natsume’s defiant attitude, watches Natsume’s trajectory from a distance, saying at one point, “I thought she would be more interesting.”
In fact, Limi and the show’s supporting characters have far more engaging storylines than Natsume’s quest for the spotlight, touching on concerns that real women contend with, beyond the pressures of measuring popularity through social media.
While the show is glossy and unrealistic at times, it has shining moments dealing with issues concerning balancing romance, motherhood and a career, dealing with life-threatening illnesses and taking your life into your own hands. It is semi-autobiographical, as Ninagawa, who grew up in the entertainment industry as the daughter of a famous theater director and worked for years as a professional photographer, had a hand in developing the original script, borrowing lines from her own life for the dialogue of the female characters.
So, while the show succeeds as a fun escape from reality, it also manages to have an empowering message about what it means to be a woman in modern society. That’s enough to make me a follower.