Jeremy Fernando presents: ‘Voyeurgeist’ by Setsuko Adachi

by Setsuko Adachi


All images by Michael Kearney, July 2018

“Beware of up-skirt filming,” a sign says at the bottom of an escalator at a city station. It is known that many eyes of cameras on phones are peeking inside skirts from below unnoticed, capturing underwear as school uniforms go up on escalators. Most girls will never know the interiors of their skirts were filmed; the tiny-gadgets erase the sign of life, of the rancid passion, the complicated violent sexual desires of one-way peekers.

The region discovered it was thick with like minds when phones with cameras became handy a few decades ago. The mobile phone cameras opened up and gave new forms to the lust that had been brewing in private rooms.

As a result, girls learned to go up the stairs and elevators placing one hand behind — over their skirts — to block the shooting. Their palms mimic the “stop!” gesture, only they are upside down and placed behind.

But, to the up-skirt filming voyeurs it means nothing. Who cares about the girls, I am not bothering them… Their visional-mental make-ups lose or do not foster perceptions of girls as fellow humans. For the voyeur, up-skirt is the object of his passionate project to be taken and shot, it is to be peeked and consumed. In the enslaved trapped routines of his life, this brings him joy, something that he wants to do — it moves him, it creates the excitement that he craves, it helps him go through an otherwise shitty life. The isolated carnal pleasure in a small confined room, shut off from any human-human contact, is the reward he earns, the satisfaction, the sense of achievement. Over all these processes he has his autonomy; planning, designing, and calculating, he desires to master, to keep getting better at, his art.

“Beware of Perverts” signs are placed by authorities — warning potential victims to guard themselves. The phone companies of the region made a voluntary move to address the situation in 2000 by disabling the function that mutes the shutter sound on phone cameras. And now, the shutter sound stigmatizes all equally with “you are a potential up-skirt voyeur.” How about putting sense into the sexist aggressors with, “Back off. Have Some Respect. Control Yourselves” instead of penalizing all the camera phone holders from that region.

… They don’t come out right in the regional language.


I can’t be happier that I am able to go outside the country. I am happy here, yet because I am happy, I am often trapped by a sense of being claustrophobia. But the cause is that I am not able to have personal friends in this country, who are selfless and intimate. Maybe it is because I am a foreigner, German, and a priest. Or maybe because … people of this country hide their true heart under the prescribed clichés.
(A letter to T from R, 1955) [1]


A teacher brutally pierced the voyeur’s eye through a hole in the wooden storage box set in a corner of the classroom; the eye of a bullied teenage junior high girl, stripped of her uniform by her classmates. Her classmates were elated in their creative sadism of humiliating the beautiful intelligent girl. The happily bonded bullies had gone to the school ground for physical education class. The naked girl held her breath so that her existence in the box which provided her with a slight dignity, a haven, would not be detected. From there through the hole the naked girl watched and listened to the teachers. They were taking the opportunity to peek into students’ modes of life, modes of mind – through inspecting the students’ personal belongings; the students will, and should, never know the teachers went through their stuff. The façade of “it never happened” and “it never existed” had to be kept, they needed the salary. It – the act and/or thought of inhumaneness – never existed. Students’ modes only mirrored the teachers’: they lynched a teacher who was the webmaster of the up-skirt photo site; they knew the school wouldn’t make it public, they were intelligent, economically promising ones. The film portrays vividly a societal system where to act upon the desire to save the bullied girl has become socially dangerous. The teacher crushes her eye in the reflexive impulse to maintain the clean façade that “his inhumaneness never existed.”


Stepping out from an indie theater into the gooeyness of summer humidity in midnight Tokyo, the shock of cutaneous sensation triggers a puffy wondering about temperatures in Iran hitting 53.7℃. She knows her mind is procrastinating — the intensity of the actors combined with the intensity of the camera left her quite tense. Shugo Fujii, the director, wanted to raise the issue and he did. He is raising an issue in a society where apathy has already taken hold; society does not feel for it; the issue has become detached from the minds of many as one of the prescribed clichés of conflict and contradiction: the pursuit of the humane killed in, and by, the profit-first education-institution policy.




The inception of his provocative work, Red Line Crossing, a psycho-mystery-thriller came nine years ago, Fujii said, when he ran into what he calls a nightmare: a newspaper article which reported that junior high school students were exchanging the photos of their sexual organs on SNS. [2] He developed the film around the idea of voyeurism; turning the audience into voyeurs. They watch the screen, the other side in silence, where an active rancid fermentation process of kyoshi(s) is taking place. Kyoshi (狂覗) is the original Japanese title: a brilliant title for it plays upon triple entendre imageries: kyoshi kyo (狂) insanity+shi (覗) peeking, with two other rotten kyoshi, teachers (教師) and death in madness (狂死). [3]

She hurries down the staircase of Uplink [4], to evacuate from the screening effect. She needs to breathe, to walk, to feel, and to think: the film turned the theatre into a small confined oppressive cell, it trapped her, filled her with a sense of claustrophobia.

It started to rain. Crossing the street and buying an umbrella in the airconditioned convenience store, the clerk asks with a smile looking at her: Raining outside? She is amazed and is delighted, enjoying immensely the unusual instance where a non-manualized conversation is initiated by a store clerk. His eyes and tone indicating that he is actually talking with her. She exchanges a smile with him with a short, Yea. Is it bad? Yea, it cooled the heat down though. Then he hands her the umbrella with: Safe home.

Popping the umbrella open and walking in the rain on the wet concrete pavement, her mind is busy dissecting the film effect, and in the midst of it, she becomes acutely aware she didn’t wish the clerk his well-being. Safe home to you too… And the sense of guilt flashes a scene in her soul – the clerk inserts a key in the door of his apartment. [He is gone inside and from the other side of the door the mean laughter of bullies breaks out, followed by the elated harmony of bullies, they are quite rhythmical] Safe home! Safe home! Safe home! The scene ends with a thin transparent liquid oozing from the keyhole, making a black stain on the concrete floor.

Voyeurgeist, her mind mutters in the hollow of her throat at the back of the uvula. Poltergeist resonates with the word when she lulls voyeurgeist, the muted soul, ghost of feeling. [5]

Safe home, Sugichan, would say from the bottom of the stairs of the bar, Lad’s, as she climbed the narrow steep stairs to catch her trains. And before stepping into the madness of outside, she would turn around to wave at Sugichan still at the bottom looking up at her to see her off. She bought the tickets in advance from Sugichan who humbly shared with her his happiness that he might be making it out there as an actor, that he might have to quit working at Lad’s. She was excited for him and she looked so much forward to talking to him soon.


Sugichan was playing the main character, a teacher who failed to smother the humane in him. He felt for the bullied, and reproached the eye-piercer. In the film was a scene where Fujii’s camera portrayed a halo, using the sun. The halo shining around the teacher, whose soul kept screaming but whose mouth remained muted, tranquilized by the profit-first policy, became too bright, too radiant, and the camera eye – the peeking audience – couldn’t see his face anymore.

She has not seen Sugichan since. Her mind has been going off on tangents, irresponsibly contemplating where he is and what happened to him. Her mind’s vision sees Sugichan going back into the gooey heat of rancid fermentation after the filming was over and getting caught in the thick stinking puke. Immobilized, Sugichan stares at the glaring shining white sun; and Sugichan, in his soft but determined mute eloquence, refusing to avert or close his eyes, looks straight into and through the glaring halo, searching.

The scorching white sun fried his eyes, soul, and him in August 2017.




[1] Based on a letter from Joseph Roggendorf (1908 – 1982) to Michio Takeyama (1903-1984). Adapted translation — written into English — by the author.

[2] For further details see Kyoshi, (Japanese) and (English).

[3] The film is available on Amazon. Unfortunately, the renting of the digital remastered version online with English subtitles ended on February 8, 2018.

[4] “[T]his [Uplink] is not a place just to watch movies. It is a place where culture is concentrated – … it is also situated in Shibuya, a place where culture is densely aggregated” (Kenta Higa) Uplink is “a kind of cultural space,” says Takashi Asai, who founded the company in 1987 after Shuji Terayama’s “Tenjo Sajiki” Theater (Troupe), to which he belonged since he was 18, dissolved in 1983. Today, Uplink holds three screening rooms (40-60 seats each), a cafe restaurant, a gallery and a market, all in one building in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Picture Houses: Uplink, Film #3 in the Picture Houses Series, Directed by Mark Chua, Emoumie Independent Organisation, April 17, 2018.

[5] The piece is dedicated to Tatsuji Sugiyama (1989-2017).




Setsuko Adachi is an associate professor in the Department of Information Studies at Kogakuin University, Tokyo. She obtained her MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Tokyo. Her main research interests are identity formation and cultural systems analysis.

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