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Finding Miki

While I was writing Paris Syndrome, I got a picture of the protagonist, Miki Suzuki, rooted deep in my head.

I saw her as ingenuous and kind, a woman who was passionate and self-effacing, and awed by the simplest of things. Petite, with small hands and a slim form, a little overly tense, I imagined her as the sort of person who gave far more to the world than she took.

And all the while I wondered whether I might ever meet her in person.

Miki Suzuki…

My Miki Suzuki.

When Paris Syndrome was ready – written and edited – I set about thinking how I could find Miki as I had thought her. One night I found myself slipping off to sleep, dreaming of a much-loved place I had known so well more than twenty years ago…

Fujisawa… a beach town an hour or so outside Tokyo. I was living in Japan, lured by the thought of what seemed to be the most exotic of cultures, and by my obsession for the Ainu people on the northern island of Hokkaido. Completely impoverished, and living mostly on ceremonial cabbages stolen from Ueno Park (which I made into a thin wretched broth), I was taken in by the Taketani family.

In many ways I was the soup of the soup – the friend of a friend. The Taketanis sucked me in without asking who I was or where I was from… or indeed why my luggage was almost exclusively made up of sacks filled with cabbage, ripped hastily by night from the flowerbeds of Ueno Park.
They fed me, and laughed with me, and revealed to me a kindness that has almost never been matched since in all my travelling days. Ototsan, the father, would sit up all night with me. Through broken English, he would describe the marvels he had seen, and others of which he had only heard. He had thought of them so often that through a curious alchemy they had become real memories of his own.

Years passed, and I left Japan after living there for a year and more. I pined for it – for the plain details and the oddities, but most of all for the Taketani family, who regarded me as one of them.

Waking from my dream, I found myself sitting upright in bed, thinking of Shintaro Taketani, the brilliant musician-son, who had moved to London many years before. Separated by the enormity of the English capital, and by layers of culture and convention, we had lost touch.

Clambering out of bed, I found Shintaro on Facebook, and sent him a message. Towards the end, a little anxious quite how to phrase it, I asked if he had ever heard of the condition that had so intrigued me – Paris Syndrome.

By the end of the next day, Shintaro had replied. But beyond that, he had connected me with Aiko Horiuchi – a svelte, gentle Japanese woman who was living in Belsize Park. An actress, Aiko, and her friend Kaya, were currently the front line in Shintaro’s alternative ‘Girl Horror Band’ – The Pompoko Sisters.

I flew up to London from Casablanca, roped in my old friends, film makers David and Leon Flamholc (with whom I had been in a Pakistani torture jail), and all together we set about creating Miki from the limits of my mind.

The morning of the shooting, I had found myself at a questionable address in London’s Soho. A basement shop, it specialised in whips and harnesses, batons, and all manner of rubberised goods. It wasn’t so unlike the Pakistani jail, I suppose. Just a whole lot cleaner.

The woman behind the counter asked gruffly what I’d come for. Looking her in the eye, I replied: ‘I have never before had cause to say the question I am about to ask.’ The sales woman cocked her head at a pile of rubber clothing at the edge of the counter. ‘Rubber, love?’ she asked. I shook my head. ‘No, not rubber.’ The sales woman seemed a little disappointed. I blinked. ‘I was wondering whether you sell straight jackets,’ I said.

And hour later, Aiko was strapped in tight, arms trussed up, her face damped down with grey makeup, hair teased out. The lights were turned on, then the camera began to roll and, before I knew it, Miki Suzuki came alive…

…and Paris Syndrome was born.