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This is one disturbing documentary. I feel as shocked and repulsed as I would had I just watched a documentary on child pornography, which frankly, isn't too far removed from what I have just seen. I don't write many reviews but sadness and anger have prompted me to start typing.
Unlike other reviewers who feel the directors skimmed the surface and left too much out, I disagree: by remaining quiet and distant (although thankfully they apparently did step in when the child models were in obvious need of help, which was not being provided by anyone else) they perfectly capture the solitary confusion, neglect, and loneliness that the girls face. The lack of action, human interaction (other than with unfriendly agency/magazine people), and the tedium of the documentary all perfectly mirror the experience the girls themselves go through. If we (adult viewers) aren't completely clear as to who certain people are, or what exactly is going on, then we can safely assume that a 13 year old girl from Siberia, who speaks neither English nor Japanese, and has no parents to help, would not know either - and that's the point. These young, hopeful, innocent girls are plucked from their surroundings and dropped into the ruthless, heartless, abusive world of modeling with no support system in place, where (shockingly, to me) women as much as men treat them as insentient "things", products that they can push, prod and pick apart. To make it all the more morally repugnant, having endured being repeatedly reviewed/rejected/reviewed/rejected/reviewed/rejected, they are sent home, not with thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, but IN DEBT to the agencies that "represent" (pimp) them.
So who's to blame for all of this - does the fault lie with the parents for sending their children off, unescorted, into the blue? I don't think so- they have been promised a dream, a future, financial rewards, which in reality are unlikely to materialize, but should they be blamed for hoping for the best? Ashley (see below), in one of her scouting pitches, claims no model fails in Japan and they won't return in debt as they would if they are sent anywhere else, which is clearly - and she knows it! - a lie. The parents are oblivious to the truth of the situation into which their daughters are being sent, and I'd like to think the moms and dads give themselves enough of a hard time for falling for the lies, and believing in the dream that didn't (and rarely does) come true once it all does become clear upon their daughters' return.
The perpetrators of what, in my opinion, amounts to borderline child abuse are Ashley Arbaugh, the scout responsible for finding the pre-pubescent girls and Noah and "Messiah", the agency owners she passes them on to.
Ashley has obviously been psychologically damaged by her own time in the modeling industry (and possible dabble into other sideline activities - prostitution, perhaps? - which she alludes to by mentioning she had been a "bad girl"), a fact that is borne out physically in the form of a large cyst and fibroid she has to have surgically removed. She is clearly not healthy in the body, nor the head. She has a horrible lack of depth, acknowledging but then brushing aside the seedy side of the industry she feeds, even going so far as to refer to prostitution as "normal". Her morals have clearly collapsed in the face of an obvious selfish drive to make money. I found her perversely fascinating. Does she have any friends? Who would want to hang out with her? She mentions wanting a baby - but would anyone actually date her?... And cold-hearted it may sound but I truly hope she never actually has one, god forbid a daughter.
As for the men who run the agencies, I have two words: "pedophile pimps".
"Ugh" is how I feel having watched this documentary. What a sordid world and how callous human beings can be. Very sad.
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