Long before the Me Too movement spread virally in October 2017, British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto was making films about inspiring female victims of oppression and discrimination, writes Holly O’Mahony…

The 66-year-old filmmaker explored female genital mutilation in Kenya in her 2002 film The Day I Will Never Forget; women standing up to rapists in India in Pink Saris (2010); and the story of an Indian Muslim woman who spent decades locked up by her family, but managed to smuggled poetry out to the world in Salma (2013).

To celebrate the work of Kim Longinotto, Deptford Cinema is running a series, Kim Longinotto: Vixen Films Retrospective. This Sunday, January 20, the cinema is screening two documentaries Kim co-directed with fellow filmmaker Jano Williams. First up is the pair’s 1993 film Dream Girls, a 50-minute documentary that investigates the world of the Takarazuka Revue, a prestigious musical theatre company in Japan. Thousands of girls apply to join the entirely male-run Takarazuka Music School each year but very few are accepted. Those who are, go on to endure years of disciplined and reclusive existence before they can graduate into the Revue, where they can choose to play male or female roles. Dream Girls offers a rarely-seen insight into the contradictions of gender and sexual identity experienced by these women in Japanese society.

Following Dream Girls, Kim and Jano’s 1995 documentary Shinjuku Boys is being shown. The 53-minute documentary won the Outstanding Documentary award at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival the year of its release. The film explores the lives of three onnabes (women who live as men and have girlfriends – but don’t usually identify as lesbians), who work as hosts at the New Marilyn Club in Tokyo. Coupling sequences of life inside the club with intimate interviews, the film unobtrusively observes the onnabes at home and on the job, with all three speaking frankly about their views on women, sex, transvestitism, lesbianism and their gender-bending lives.

While the heterosexual women coming to the New Marilyn Club provide more of a backdrop to the lives of the onnabes in Shinjuku Boys, their disappointment in real men seems eerily predictive when viewing the film 24 years on in 2019. Last July, a Radio 4 programme titled No Sex, Please revealed the startling lack of heterosexual sex going on in Japan – a country with a rapidly declining birth rate and more elderly citizens than any other industrialised nation. Meanwhile, official Japanese government statistics suggest 42 per cent of single men and 44 per cent of women aged 18-34 have never had sex.

Further film’s by Kim including: Pride of Place (1976), Theatre Girls (1978), Divorce Iranian Style (1998) and Sisters in Law (2005) are being screened on different date as part of the same series. See the Deptford Cinema website for more information.

Dream Girls + Shinjuku Boys are showing at Deptford Cinema, 39 Deptford Broadway, London SE8 4PQ.
January 20, from 5pm – 6:45pm.
Admission: £6/£4.50 concessions. www.deptfordcinema.org/