December 29th, 2007

operesque

From milk to eternity

Milk is the fluid produced by female mammals to nurture their offspring: this much we know. It's also the name of a French magazine about children's fashion. This spring MilK (the mix of lower case and caps is part of the magazine's logo, as it is in FRUiTS) launched a sister edition in Japan. MilK Japon published its fourth issue earlier this month. The cover is rather lovely; a photograph by Koomi Kim of idol-turned-actress-turned-mother Isshiki Sae, heavily pregnant.



"Maternity is eternity" is MilK Japon 4's theme. To understand the symbolism of the cover, you have to know that Isshiki Sae, now 30, shot to fame in 1992 at the age of just 15 when she became "that girl in the Pocari Sweat commercials".

I remember that summer well. For me, too, Japan in 1992 tastes of Pocari Sweat. In June I flew there with my band (Douglas, Damian, Neill and Tour Manager Tammy) for the first time. My immediate impression was of the intensely humid Pacific heat, the tropical sun beating down on the Narita tarmac. Toshi from Creative Man Productions led us straight to a vending machine and bought all five of us cans of Pocari Sweat. We'd never heard of it before; I remember we laughed at the name. Toshi told us it was a beverage launched with the idea that it should be "a drip feed you can drink". We opened the slim blue cans with their Coke swoosh-like logos, swigged the fluid inside. Not bad. Refreshing, anyway, and not too sweet. The semi-translucent fluid had a faint zing of distant grapefruit suspended in a chalky, alkaline body. "My life water," Isshiki Sae calls it in the 1992 commercial:



Half way through the commercial Sae tweaks her swimsuit open a chink and looks down at her flat breasts as if to say either "Nope, nothing there yet" or perhaps "Something stirring". Perhaps there's a memory of that forlorn, hopeful gesture in Koomi Kim's image for MilK. Here, the 30 year-old Sae has milk-ready breasts and her belly bulges with new life. Twice the age (and twice the size) she was in her 1992 commercial, Sae is a grown woman. She's replaced the cute anxiety of that chest-glimpse with an expression of Mona Lisa-like serenity, a quiet belly-pride. Clearly, she's discovered a different kind of "life water" -- one that connects her body, through sweat and pleasure, milk and maternity, to eternity.

It's a beautiful image of fertility, and -- in the life cycle of Japan -- it comes not a moment too soon (and perhaps a moment or two too late). Because in 2005 Japanese deaths per thousand overtook Japanese births per thousand. More people are dying now in Japan than being born. Sae is keeping ahead of the replacement rate (the new baby is her third child or possibly even her fourth), but Japan isn't doing quite as well. And, while maternity may be one route to eternity, death is forever too.