Filmmaker Marie Schuller explores individuality and female identity in our #StellaBy series shot in Japan.
From a rigid conformity and aligned movement the scene spontaneously turns to rebellion in the gritty underbelly of Tokyo’s monogrammed nightlife. Wearing our latest ready-to-wear and adidas collections, we watch as the girls fall out of line and unleash a tour de force across the city – an allegory for a new era of bold Japanese women creating their own identity and breaking out of regiment.
Marie’s distinctive storytelling has put her at the centre of fashion filmmaking, framing ideas of womanhood through powerful and confronting images. We catch up with Marie to discuss more about her work and what inspired the energetic movement and attitude in this new instalment of #StellaBy.
What sparked your interest in fashion, photography and film?
My interest in film and photography came first – I went to film school and afterwards started experimenting with video clips for the then little known medium of fashion film. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing but that was the beauty of the medium. In comparison to other film practises, fashion was devoid of rules and norms, its merger with film was a genre in its infancy and left a lot of room for imagination and creativity. There weren’t many references so you had to come up with original ideas. Most of ours were horrific. My first films looked a lot like 70s softporn. I then started working with SHOWstudio and Nick Knight for 5 years, which made me fully appreciate the medium’s possibilities and refine my work.
Tell us more about the concept behind the story – is it inspired by Japanese culture and identity?
We tried to form a story around the same narrative that also inspired the collection itself: Japanese culture and identity but also concepts of rebellion and individuality. The Japan I experienced is a rather fetishised and distorted concept of the country as I’ve only been there once and know Japanese culture mainly from people’s personal anecdotes, films, photographs and books. So my idea of Tokyo is very saturated, larger than life. I see Japan as a culture of extremes and contradictions. We wanted to capture the city’s energy and intensity. My vision of Tokyo was an outsider’s view so it was important for me to have a cast that is very authentically representative of the city. That’s why Chiharu and Aya’s gang are the ultimate focus of the narrative. They didn’t play an act but were very much themselves and instrumental in shaping the film’s story.
What was it like shooting in Japan?
Pretty bonkers. The first thing that hit us like a baseball bat in the face was the extreme heat and humidity. I’ve been to Asia dozens of times but did not expect this. It almost made you pass out, although the girls didn’t seem at all affected by it, maybe my crude German genes just can’t handle it. The second thing that fascinated me was the city’s efficiency. I hate to serve up to the stereotype, but everything just works. We shot four locations on two days and it clicked like clockwork. The city is fuelled by extremely talented and professional people, all the way from the drivers up to the producers, glam team, DoP and of course the models themselves. People work hard and are passionate, and most importantly they are pretty damn brilliant at what they do. The idea of shooting an unrehearsed scene in a 12 square meter karaoke booth within 20 minutes seems impossible but these guys make it happen.
The film depicts an element of female strength and affinity, but also rebellion. Are these recurring themes in your work?
Of course femininity or gender identity is a major factor in fashion imagery generally so female representation has always inadvertently be an important aspect of my work. My favourite woman when growing up was Grace Jones in ‘A View To A Kill’ and I was always fascinated by strong Amazonian statuesque, almost frightening female characters. Aya and her seductive intensity fits that bill very well – I was really excited to have her on board. The thing I learned about shooting strong personalities like hers is that you will get the best results if you let them be themselves rather than trying to make them act a certain role or change who they are. So this is also what we did in Tokyo. I had a narrative in mind and shared this with Aya and Chiharu who then interpreted the story in their own ways. The dance is choreographed by Aya herself.
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In the film we see two contrasting styles of movements in the first and second half. What inspired the dance movements?
Japanese precision walking inspires the first part of the film. This is a sport that I’ve been fascinated with for years – It is mainly used as an extra curriculum activity at Japanese sport academies to boost morale and discipline. It’s simple – in essence, a group of men or women walks together, however their steps and movements are so perfectly synced and immaculately executed that the final result is bizarrely hypnotic, almost un-human.
The second part of the film is choreographed by Aya herself. The dance oozes her personality and character and I had very little to do with this – the reason why we wanted her to star in the film was because we admire what she does, so I didn’t want to restrain her in any way – I just let her do her thing. I merely built a narrative around her dance, which is where Chiharu and the city of Tokyo come in.
We hope our collections incite a natural confidence. Did the clothes inform the storytelling at all?
The garments had great movement and fluidity to them, which was perfect for this shoot of course. They were extremely flexible and comfortable and enabled the dancers to move. The red hue was also an important leitmotiv throughout the collection. Red is a statement, it has an energy to it. It is quite a transformative colour and in that sense did incite an almost theatrical confidence in the dancers. They were ready to take the stage.
How would you say fashion film has evolved over time and what direction is it going in?
Fashion Film is still in an explorative era with the genre constantly reinventing itself. However, like any art form, the format dissects and responds to the Zeitgeist of cultural and artistic change. I think one development that is very predominant at the moment is the urge for raw authenticity. Technological advances and the obsessive nature of presenting perfected versions of ourselves on social media has led to a boom in heavy image manipulation and overly retouched fashion imagery in the 2000s. But nowadays the simplicity in removing someone’s pores, clinching someone’s waist or drawing in someone’s cheekbones means that these tricks of the trade are available to everyone with basic photoshop skills, a ring light or an Instagram filter. Fashion and social media imagery are oversaturated with pictures of digital perfection and I believe that this has created a need for realness. The artistry of image-makers addressing this anti-movement doesn’t create perfection; it’s about capturing the delicacy of real emotion, real connection, real raw humanity. There is a massive move towards more unaffected imagery in fashion photography, with artists like Harley Weir, Tyrone LeBon and Jamie Hawkesworth leading the way. The same changes can be observed in fashion film. Audiences have rightfully become more demanding and are not impressed anymore by just pretty visuals. They long for reason and emotional response. Narrative fashion films have become an important factor to respond to these shifts. I also observe a big move toward analogue techniques and film cameras, away from glossy effected CGI imagery. As with any art form, good work will always stand out no matter what, but my prediction for the future of fashion film is a further shift towards individualism, narrative and a delicate approach to authenticity.