Followers: Analysis of a Scene

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I was browsing through Netflix’s unintuitive search engine the other day and stumbled upon “Followers”, a 2020 Netflix Japanese web series directed by Mika Ninagawa. Who I found out is a superstar photographer known for her pop art photography works by using bright colours and floral imageries. A lot of the photos hanging around in the show are hers, the wall design in Limi’s studio, the cherry blossom photos she’s discussing with her team and also in the montages that started the first episode. The Japanese contemporary pop art movement is always fascinating to me as they took a different approach and is influenced by ukiyo-e paintings, manga/anime aesthetics, ‘flat’ aesthetics to bring out vibrant colours and storytelling in just a single 2-dimensional medium. She had a very distinctive style that I paid more attention when rewatching the series, again and again, and again, to fully grasp and appreciate the visual aesthetics and the underlying subtext of the show. This will be my attempt to write a different kind of review, a more intimate one as I’m trying to focus on a single amazing scene.

As a creative myself, I could relate to both main pov characters from the perspective of age and experience, as I’m in-between them; the established 38-year old photographer Nara Limi (played by Miki Nakatani ) who wants to bear a child in confidence that she finally can juggle between work and being a mother; and the rookie 21-year old Hyataku Natsume (played by Elaiza Ikeda) who wants to be a serious actor and be taken seriously. The show follows both of them and their friends on the struggles of being women in the commercial world.

But the character, of all the amazing ones this show provides, that I like the most was Tamio Mochizuki (played by Tadanobu Asano). He is Limi’s ex-lover turn love-interest. He was also a fashion photographer like Limi but decided to become a wildlife photographer due to not agreeing with the consumerist lifestyle of the former. The two lines that I found quite cool were uttered by this character; the first was “Don’t criticise my ex-girlfriend” when Limi was apologising to him about a traumatic event that happened in their past which she still blames herself of. The second was in this scene:

A badly taken image using my smartphone because Netflix doesn’t allow printscreen to activate.

To give context, this was the fifth episode titled “Bug”, which relates more to Natsume’s story but it was a ‘bug’ in the system nonetheless. If I were a structural reviewer, I would say this is the midpoint of Limi’s story. It even comes with a bell sound. Without spoiling the narrative, up until now both characters have rediscovered their love and are spending happy times together. Alas, in the scene, Tamio realises after Limi’s long line that they’re both trying to settle for each other by leaving the thing they want the most behind. Their very goals and dreams that they worked so hard to achieve. The scene was not about being selfish in life by prioritising our own goals, but it was saying to us that we should not be afraid of the unforeseen future and the what if’s to waver and settle for a familiar safe space—as a creative, this is important.

Everything in this scene was perfect. Both Limi and Tamio being written as fully-fledged characters with their own goals and motivations help setting up everything. Tamio was cooking for Limi for a whole different reason before the line; his intent was clearly the very opposite based on the previous scenes. Limi is, at first, trying to hold her tears in shock, thinking Tamio is suddenly leaving her out of nowhere, congratulating him for his job offer, but then her expression turns into an understanding one as she realises Tamio is doing that for her sake too, that she shouldn’t let go of her dream, do not waver, and reassured her. Tamio left in the morning leaving a developed photo of Limi’s Louboutins, in reference towards their very first interaction years ago.

Love can wait, love has waited, but now both of them need to step into the journey they’ve always wanted to step into and brace all the challenges that would definitely come. Of course, in terms of the series, Tamio returned on screen at the end in a symbolic showing of both he and Limi surviving their ordeal of venturing into their dreams: maybe now they can be together again. That if you love someone, let them go, and you’ll find each other again. There are many ‘cool’ characters in the fictional world, and Tamio Mochizuki is definitely one of them.