A four-square-metre box with a screen and computer. This is what Japanese cyber-cafes offer, around the clock.
Most customers just spend an hour or two here. But there are thousands who spend their lives in them.
The Manboo in Tokyo has its own permanent residents: Masata and Hitomi. It is a home for them, even though they sleep on the floor.
Director: Jérôme Plan
Fixer: Akane Saiki
Sound editor: Olivier Roche
Subtitles: Escarlata Sánchez, Lena Roche, Nuno Prudêncio, Diego Giuliani, Adrian Lancashire, Jodie Clifford
“I wanted to bring to the fore
a fringe phenomenon
that highlighted widening inequalities.”
- Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a journalist, filmmaker and cameraman who grew up in Ivory Coast, Guyana, and Gabon. In France, I have worked as a reporter, and in China, South Africa, and Israel, as a news correspondent. I am now the director of 99.
“Lost in Manboo” is the first film to go live on our online platform. This has been a landmark test for our team, allowing us to fine-tune our multilingual subtitling process.
- How did the idea for this film come about?
I was planning to submit a film project for the Prix Robert Guillain. This is a grant-based prize that helps French journalists to spend time in Japan as reporters. For this reason, I was reading widely about the country – its history, its society – when the concept of manga cafés, and the fact that people lived in them, came to light in a report from Le Monde.
- How did filming go in Tokyo?
Sadly, it was financially impossible for me to stay more than 10 days in Tokyo. To keep within budget, I needed to film two reports commissioned by a French TV channel, as well as produce my short documentary.
On arrival in Tokyo, I met with Akane and we began looking for people to feature in the film. There are several Manboo Cafés, so we went from one to the next to find people willing to open up their cubicles to us and be interviewed.
Luckily, after a few days, we met Masata and Hitomi, and we were able to start shooting.
- The cubicles are tiny. How did you manage to shoehorn in a camera, tripod, microphones etc. for filming?
Certain shots were filmed using a GoPro that I rigged on the wall. I operated it from the corridor via my mobile, so I was out of shot.
When interviewing, it was more complicated: the interviewee, Akane and myself were packed like sardines into a space of around three or four square metres. I knew what filming would be like beforehand, though, and brought along the right camera lenses for the job.
- You offer us a version of Tokyo by night, devoid of music, and often awash with sadness. Tell us about your vision, from a stylistic point of view.
My aim was to play with the contrast between what is outside and what lies within. Manboo Cafés are very calm – silent, even. The cubicle walls are thin and there are no ceilings. The only sounds you can hear are the buzz of the air conditioning, sliding doors squeaking, neighbours snoring or sneezing…
Of course, outside, on Tokyo’s streets, it’s a bustling and noisy world, and the sound engineering of Olivier Roche really helped me to draw a clear line between the two.
Given this contrast, I didn’t feel that musical underscoring was needed in the film. During editing, I also noticed that material shot at night had captured a certain mellowness; this steered me to use night-time footage exclusively.
- Why did you want to make this film?
Although I am not a specialist in Japanese culture, I wanted to bring to the fore a fringe phenomenon that highlighted widening inequalities there.
These young workers use Manboos as a home with few commitments, costing between 10 – 15 € per night. The flip side to this freedom is a lack of official residence: they live on the margins of society, undetectable by the authorities.
Living bang on the pulse of Tokyo’s frenetic heart, at the same time, they are isolated, and bound by huge financial and emotional instability.
- Do you know what happened to Masata and Hitomi?
It’s a question frequently asked, especially with regards to Hitomi. Sadly, I have no news whatsoever.
Our paths crossed but briefly. Barely ten minutes were spent together to shoot footage and record their interviews. There was no time to exchange contact details.
With all my heart, I hope they are happy!
- A word about 99, and the multilingual adaptation of your film?
Essentially, thanks go to Escarlata, Lena, Diego, Adrian and Nuno who, through their multilingual subtitling, made it possible to share this film with an international audience.
By virtue of 99, I have discovered that Brazil has its own Japanese community amongst which my film was shared with Portuguese subtitles.
With less expensive professional equipment, small teams, self-training, and the option to work at speed, making films has become “easy”. Making your work visible is still the difficult bit. 60% of all online material is in English, but only 5% of people have English as their mother tongue. Subtitling then plays a major role in bringing great films into the light; films that carry universal messages.
This is what 99 is all about, because, after all, 99% of our DNA is the same as everyone else’s.