The perfect short film is exactly the length to tell the story. Filmmaker Hiroki Inoue’s charming 20-minute story captures the world of its main character just right.

A Modern Issue from an Old Tale

While the story is based on the Fukushima folktale “Oppa no Kawa,” at the heart of the film is the very topical experience of a woman struggling within a modern society that establishes her value solely on her looks.

Before going to Tokyo from her hometown of Mishima, Fukushima Prefecture, the main character Kyoko stops in at Tsuchiyu Onsen, where a mysterious shopkeeper hands her an “old woman's skin" that, if she puts it on, can transform her into an old woman.

Watch the full short below:

The main character, Kyoko (played by Konatsu Kato) suffers from shyness and social anxiety created, in part, by a lifetime of unwanted attention from men. The filmmaker gets to the point without making it dull exposition. As Kyoko waits for her friend/sister, two men start hassling her. From their faces and her reaction, we understand immediately two things: this happens all the time to Kyoko and she has no good methods of dealing with this.


As the audience, we feel for Kyoko. The performance by Kato and the direction by Inoue allow us to root for her—all while hoping she can become a stronger character who can confront her environment.

You can actually read the short story written by Ao Omae based on the folktale here. It formed the adaptation of Inoue’s film.

Convincing blend of lighting, acting, and prosthetics to make… magic

It wouldn’t be a magical folktale if there weren’t a bit of magic involved! The Old Woman Skin is essentially a realistic world—with one main exception. The shopkeeper and the magic skin she gives to Kyoko. To accomplish this departure from reality, the filmmaker and director of photography use subtle lighting cues to make the shift. Along with the lighting change and the costume and make-up, the delightful acting from Hairi Katagiri all combine to create a more whimsical world in which reality can be upended.


Later in the film, Kyoko takes what looks like a plain costume mask and wig. But when she decides to put on the mask, some subtle VFX transform it into her real skin and a real face. (And a convincing short performance by the actress Keiko Takahashi as the same Kyoko in a new skin.)

It is difficult in a short film to pull off this kind of effect because you risk interrupting the story. Here, the filmmaking team is able to show the transformation front and center, keep the magic, and continue to move the story forward.


Using strong imagery to tell the story

Visually, the filmmaker uses imagery to tell the story succinctly.

For example, to perfectly convey Kyoko’s feelings about her new coworker, the filmmaker uses the imagery of strawberries. Kyoko is looking fondly at Fujisaki (played by Kenta Hamano) as he eats a strangely-shaped strawberry.

“It doesn’t look nice, but it’s delicious,” he says. The strawberry itself is slightly different looking than a standard supermarket variety, but both characters chomp on the delicious fruit.

From this visual, we understand everything about what the character Kyoko is thinking.


The film is also steeped in the rich imagery of Japan, ranging from the more quaint countryside of Mishima in Fukushima Prefecture to the towering modern buildings of Tokyo where Kyoko transfers for work. We can catch glimpses of the small town life versus the big city, which adds another layer to the film. Fukushima Prefecture was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake 10 years ago.

While none of this is overtly mentioned in the film, it serves as one more layer to the story that can be appreciated by audiences.


From the beginning, The Old Woman Skin sets up the story to be an entertaining ride for the audience. With strong visuals, good acting, and a magical direction, the film asks us to rethink how we judge others, and think more about what’s on the inside.

What would you find out if you could put on someone else's skin?

The Old Woman’s Skin was created from a story commission by the Japan Cultural Expo project to draw on the essence of culture and stories laying dormant in various areas of Japan. It’s presented by the Japan Cultural Expo Project, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, Japan Arts Council, and SSFF & ASIA.

Read more about this film, and others in the program, here.