The Mysterious Photograph

Urabe's sweet smile

First off, sorry for the long silence! Summer vacation was so very relaxing that I’ve been lying around just watching television (anime marathons!), reading books and manga, going out with friends, watching movies at that brand new theater just 5 minutes away (which used to be 40 minutes), and learning how to cook omurices. Anyway, now that I’ve got my long overdue fill of vacationing and pure bliss of relaxation, it’s time that I get back to my blog, and this time, I’ll be talking about episode 6 of the drool-worthy series, Mysterious Girlfriend X.

Polaroid Camera

Now there’s something you don’t see everyday. A Polaroid camera! Photography is my passion and hobby, so you can imagine that I was extremely glad to see a retro camera used in this episode. Today’s generation may not be familiar with this archaic camera, having been replaced by cellphone cameras, compact digital cameras, or DSLRs today, but there is a simple charm to this camera. First introduced in 1948, the Polaroid instant camera at the time was revolutionary, allowing one to compose, press the shutter button, and presto, you have a picture all developed and ready in less than a minute. For some people today (namely antique collectors, photography aficionados, or older generations), you’ll get the best of both worlds; the mysterious, tactile experience of analogue film with the ‘right now’ convenience of digital.

Urabe's usual enigmatic expression

In episode 6 of Mysterious Girlfriend X, Urabe makes it a point not to force a smile, saying it’s pointless to fake a smile for a photo and instead going with her usual enigmatic expression. This is quite understandable, since it must feel like one is being forced into a certain look and may seem unnatural. In portrait photography there are four kinds of approaches, and this would be the constructionist approach when the photographer constructs an ambient idea around a portrait — happy family, romantic couple, or in this case, an endearing, charming girlfriend. This is the most common approach used in studios or general social photography.[1] But Urabe has something different in mind for a pose later on after this shot…

Tsubaki storing Urabe's picture in his wallet

After a tender moment of sharing their own feelings about their current relationship and Tsubaki’s former crush through the bond of drool, Urabe lets loose a sweet smile as seen in the first picture of this post. Tsubaki exclaims that was the look he’d been looking for, and begs her to let him take a photo of that fleeting moment. Urabe obliges, and just when Tsubaki presses the shutter button, Urabe pulls an akanbe (あかんべえ) pose, a Japanese facial gesture where she pulls down a lower eyelid and sticks out her tongue. This playful pose gives Tsubaki a unique photograph with which to treasure instead of the usual typical smiling pose, and it also shows that Urabe is happy and comfortable enough to share such an expression out of her normal enigmatic persona. This shot is taken through the candid approach inadvertently, but it’s still quite nice and cute in its own way compared to the constructionist approach and I prefer the natural candid approach.

Tsubaki ripping up his former crush's photo

Another interesting aspect to note and this time, we’ll go back to episode 1 of Mysterious Girlfriend X, where Tsubaki tears up his picture of his former crush to prove and declare his love for Urabe. The thing about an instant camera is that each and every one of the photographs taken with it is unique. There is only one copy of the photograph the moment it is instantly taken. So, while Tsubaki’s ripping the photograph may not seem significant today with online copies of digital photographs, it meant a lot more back then where you only have one copy of a photograph in existence to cherish.[2]

Mysterious Girlfriend X has an old-fashioned feel to it, and I do think that the Polaroid instant camera serves to enhance and contribute to its story and atmosphere. Now I wish I had an instant camera to play around with…


  1. Here’s a link for more reading on portrait photography and the other three approaches if you’re ever curious.
  2. I’m actually not quite sure as to when the timeline is for this series, so I can’t confirm whether there were digital photographs or not then. This is all purely based on my assumptions which I would think is sometime between 1960-1980 roughly.

4 thoughts on “The Mysterious Photograph

  1. AceRailgun

    The whole polaroid situation might not just be the only thing like this lately. It reminds me of Kids on the Slope as well. The series is set in the 1960’s and uses many old fashion devices to tell the story and give deeper meaning to actions, actions which anyone under say 18 or so might not understand because they have no knowledge of polaroid cameras or records etc.
    The whole thing makes me feel old.

    Nice to see you posting again it’s been a while.

    Reply
    1. Ephemeral Dreamer Post author

      I haven’t seen Kids on the Slope yet, but it does sound interesting from what you tell me. I’ll have to get to that later on, and don’t worry about it making you feel old! :)

      Thanks!

      Reply
  2. skyhack

    That’s a Polaroid Job Pro. Somewhat ruggedized, a better lens, and could handle their fastest films. I had a Kodak Instant camera of similar ilk, easily done since Kodak made the film for the Polaroid. Polaroid sued and took their film production in-house, and that was the end of the short-lived Kodak Instants. I probably owned a dozen of those old Polaroids.

    Reply

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