Netflix’s The Many Faces of Ito is based on a novel by Japanese author Asako Yuzuki called “Ito-Kun A to E”. To be fair, I believe that both male and female writers are capable of writing characters outside of their own experiences, provided that they put in the blood, sweat, and tears to write these kind of stories with empathy. That said, there are certain literary works — whether they be movies, novels, or graphic novels — that certain individuals write with such poignancy and intimacy that literally breathes life, grows flesh, and steps off of the pages can only be captured by them and them alone. For example, though I am a Black women I didn’t grow up with the same seed-like experiences (extreme poverty, daughter of sharecroppers) that Alice Walker planted, nurtured, and reaped the tragic roses-with-thorns beauty found in her Pulitzer Prize fiction novel, The Color Purple.
Asako Yuzuki’s The Many Faces of Ito fits into this category.
Ito Seijirō, one of the main driving forces in the Netflix Japanese Dram, is an interesting character. Like a mischievous god he works behind the scenes interacting with the same four (symbolic? Bad luck number shi=death?) love-sick women that the main character, Rio Yazaki, is “mentoring”. Unfortunately, both characters (Ito is an aspiring screenwriter while Rio is a successful one) are mining these four women for intimate details about their love lives under the guise of helping them when they’re truly trying to help their careers.
Ironically, as Rio learns more information about these women and how they have loved and lost Ito, she always learns that at one time in her life, she had shared or worn these women’s traits or “faces” as a young woman. On the flip side, the show could fittingly be called “The Many Faces of Rio”. This isn’t a criticism of Rio’s character, but a nod to the fact that she is a multifaceted individual. She’s many shades of gray, which is a normal part of the human experience. She, like all of the characters in this stellar series, is relatable. Due to the title, which carries Ito’s name it is simple to deduce that Ito wears many faces and that’s why he’s able to charm, seduce, and enthrall (almost spell-like) four incredibly different women.
If you haven’t finished watching this series, I recommend that you stop reading. Why? There be spoilers ahead, me matey!
It’s interesting to note that both Rio and Ito receive guidance that they never intended to gain in the form of brutally honest self-enlightenment and reflection. Likewise, as Rio envisions the scenes in her script, it’s funny to see some of the men in her work-life as physical manifestations of the mysterious Ito while simultaneously these imaginings are kind of sad because she seems unaware that as she writes she is working through her own real-life issues.
In Episode 8, Parts 1 and 2 The Educated Novice, this fact is made clear when we learn that Rio is bitter, partially ignorant of who she really is, and flailing for what she wants. When her producer and ex-lover, Shin’ya Tamura, ultimately chooses Ito’s script that he deems to be more realistic, Rio accuses him of “always doing this to her” and wonders if he never intended to use her work in the first place. Just like he never considered marrying her. Shin’ya confesses that he’s a Rito Yazaki fan and the reason why they drifted apart is because they couldn’t keep their work and personal life separate. He tells her that he wants to make “the best drama in the world with you!”. It’s almost as if this shared work will be “their child”. It’s not far-fetched to make this comparison when authors use terms like “literary baby” and describe publishing or selling their work as “sending their child off into the world”. That’s sometimes why the writing process can be so hard and also rewarding when recognition is experienced.
Tamura doesn’t deny that he didn’t want to marry her, but confirms her disappointment by stating:
“That is why I couldn’t marry you.”
This cold truth is followed up with flashback snippets containing the recurring image of Rio using red tape to seal her bathtub. This recurring image works kind of like an idée fixe and it’s highly symbolic.
In Japan, the bathtub is cultural. During my time visiting Japan, it’s normal and expected to spend a considerable amount of time in the bath just to relax. In the USA where I live, people take baths to get clean, but in Japan, that’s what showers are for. I remember (fondly) using the shower to scrub myself clean and anticipated soaking in the bath, which my host family prepared with fresh lavender. After I was clean, I then entered the bath. And soaked.
Bathing (even basking in the warmth and light of the sun) is important in Japan. There’s even a word for it:
So why did Rio place a lid on the bathtub and tape it up? And what’s with the color red?
Six years prior to this climatic moment, Rio is proudly and lovingly taping up her bathtub. It’s almost like she’s wrapping a present. Even as she is taping up the bathtub, a younger Tamura tells a more cheerful and younger Rio that he wants to take a bath with her. Smiling, she tells him:
“No! This is our office, not our home. I will work hard in this office. I will write many scripts here.”
This poignant flashback sheds light on how female creators — as analyzed through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s extended essay, “A Room of One’s Own” — are unable to both survive and thrive due to the systemic obstacles linked to their gender. Virginia Woolf was an English writer considered to be one of the most influential and important modernist writers. She’s also considered a pioneer in the use of “stream of consciousness” a literary technique characterized by the depiction of the narrator’s flowing thoughts and images.
Woolf’s extended essay provides two main arguments:
- Women have the right to be educated and independent.
- Women must also have the right to be respected as authors.
The reason why the title is so important is because in order for women to access these rights, they must literally have a room of their own to write in.
I’d like to expand on this. In addition to these rights, women also need access and agency. Tamura, Rio’s ex knows how much she loves to write. He wanted to truly please her. And as her ally and producer, he provides her with an open door to agency in a male-dominated industry. Tamura also confesses to Rio that instead of becoming her husband he chose to become her producer.
By sealing the bathtub Rio literally creates “a room of her own”.
Tamura replies with a question: “Are you trying to prove how determined you are as a scriptwriter through this?”
Rio replies “Yes. I am determined.”
She seems to smile and for a moment her face flickers with sadness. With this explicit and symbolic act, Rio will not be relaxing, from this moment on. And she’s hyper-aware of this. It’s her choice.
Second, she uses red tape. This may just be mere speculation, on my part, but I think there is strong evidence to support that Rio wasn’t sad about this sacrifice and dedication with the color she chose to tape the tub. Like in most cultures, color is symbolic. In Japan, the color red symbolizes a lot of things. For instance:
The white of the tub striped with red tape screams “celebration” and “commemoration”. Rio is proud of her choice. She is fully invested in her writing career. There is no turning back. In a sense, she’s married to her career. 🙂
In the present-day, Tamura tells her that she is a renowned writer and why should she care that he is using Ito’s script. He even points out why he thinks she’s being silly by implying that she’s acting petty, by saying that she has better things to do and that she has better things to write. He demands that she write and to “stop keeping him waiting”. Hmmm.
When Tamura leaves Rio’s residence, she returns to her “room of her own” and lovingly touches the red tape of the tub before she is face to face with “Accomplished Rio” her successful and critical self dressed in blue (symbolizes passivity and coolness) and black (non-being, mystery, and anger).
Some have argued that Rio untapes the bath because she has not only given up on being a serious writer, but she is mourning all the years of baths she has missed and that she has made sacrifices for nothing.
I disagree. This incredibly intense scene is preceded by Accomplished Rio aloofly pointing out all of her faults, fears, doubts, pride, hesitation, excuses, and inactivity (writing slumps aka writing block). Accomplished Rio verbally filets Rio, challenging her and forcing her to fight and reclaim herself. With or without Tamura. She will be who she is on her terms and hers alone.
In general, women are expected to wear many faces.
Growing up, I heard that “women can do anything” or “women can have it all” meaning that we can be mothers, wives, and hold promising careers.
This is quasi-true. Yes, we can indeed have it all . . . if all is to be gotten, but not at once, as my mother had wisely admonished me while growing up.
There are only so many hours in the day and those moments must be dedicated to other people, as well as life’s daily mundane plans demanding attention along the way as we pave pathways to our dreams. And that’s okay. Each time I remind myself of this truth, my anxieties are assuaged, but not defeated. It’s something I must remain perpetually conscious of.
Despite the fact that the characters in The Many Faces of Ito are Japanese, the desire for women to lead independent lives isn’t solely a feature found in Western culture. It’s also interesting how the idea of necessity versus extravagance as presented in Ming L. Cheng’s “Tragic Limitations in Seventeen Syllables” explains why Rio is at war with herself.
Accomplished Rio asks Rio if her determination is rotting away in that bathtub. Accomplished Rio also tells Rio that those four women she looked down on have passed through a tunnel of realization thanks to Ito. They’re gone and Rio alone is stuck in her inexperienced stage. The bathtub in a sense is a paradox of extravagance and necessity.
As soon as Accomplished Rio warns Rio that once she opens up the bathtub, she’ll never be a scriptwriter. In an enraged frenzy, Rio knocks boxes overflowing with paperwork resting on top of the neglected tub and rips off the red tape. Once she removes the lid, she caresses the bottom of the tub and its sides, weeping, “It’s clean”. Her unbridled crying is punctuated with swelling minimalistic music and silence.
Tamura (unwittingly?) acts as both Rio’s gatekeeper and guide. It appears as if he was only accepting parts of Rio and not her as a whole. He views her current (and rejected) work — her first script after a long hiatus — as an extravagance. When both Rio and Accomplished Rio smile at the untaped bathtub, it is clear what Rio means when she says, “I am currently walking down a long, dark tunnel. I cannot see a thing. I must feel my way through it.” She stands at the seashore (the water symbolizes reflection and rebirth).
She is determined to work on her terms and with rejuvenated vigor.
She receives a cell phone call from Tamura, who tells her that neither her script nor Ito’s was accepted.
She answers: “I will not give up. I won’t give up. I will continue to write. So let’s aim for 30% viewership on our next drama.”
Even though Tamura points out that this is an impossible goal, his desire to work with her and to create something together is at the heart of his intent. About time. He too is accepting her on her own terms.
To summarize, not only do women need a room of their own, money, and education, but they also need access to agency. They need the support of fans cheering them on. And those that want to hate? Well, then they’re just obstacles to overcome. 🙂
And most importantly, writers need to believe in themselves.
During the rolling credits of The Many Faces of Ito, paired with an upbeat J-Pop, Rio expresses, “No matter how hard you try, your effort may not bear fruit. Still, I’m going to try writing again. A scriptwriter must keep writing in order to move forward. The exit of this tunnel is not afar.”
The series final FINAL (lol) scene is open to interpretation. However, I think it presents a positive place, where both Ito and Rio can exit the tunnel by working together. After all, both teacher and student as rivals have learned a lot about life and each other.
2 thoughts on “An Analysis of The Many Faces of Ito”
Its easy to look at a person and think thats all there is to them without realizing there may be more to them. Its hard to take the time to get to know them. Which can be rewarding in the end.