Swallowtail Butterfly (Movie)

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Swallowtail & Butterfly (Suwarōtēru) is a full-length Japanese movie that was released in 1996. It is also known by Swallowtail, Swallowtail Butterfly and Yentown. The movie was directed by Shunji Iwai, a director who also frequently writes plays and makes documentaries. He has become a highly-desired director, and it was Swallowtail & Butterfly that launched him to the top of his career.


The movie is based in a place called Yentown. Yentown became a city when immigrants rushed into the area trying to earn money, which are called Yen in Japan. Yentown then became a place where people would rush to when they wanted to make money. They would travel there, make money and return home.

Yentown is a type of ghetto and resembles Tokyo, Japan. In the start of the movie a 16 year old named Ageha is standing in front of a corpse. The authorities ask her if the dead woman is her mother and Ageha says “no”. In all actuality, the dead woman was her mother. Ageha can not afford to pay the funeral expenses and knows that if nobody claims the body, the state will pay for the funeral.

Ageha is then cast out into the world with no one to care for her. She approaches her mother’s friends and none of them seem to want her. She gets passed from friend to friend until she ends up living with a prostitute named Glico. Glico takes her in out of pity and while she lives with her, Ageha has many experiences and learns about life from the immigrants that did not make their fortune in Yentown.

Eventually Glico gets discovered as a singer. She and her crew have the opportunity to make the money that they have always wanted. The money causes problems, though, and the bond that Glico and Ageha has formed ends up being too fragile to last and the two find themselves having to face their own fears and solve their own problems.


Swallotail & Butterfly won three awards prestigious awards the year it was released:

  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Newcomer of the Year to Ayumi Ito who plays Ageha
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Most Popular Film
  • 1998 Fant-Asia Film Festival - Best Asian Film

Swallowtail & Butterfly was also nominated for the following awards:

  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Actress for Chara
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Art Direction for Yohei Taneda
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Cinematography for Noboru Shinoda
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Film
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Lighting for Yuuki Nakamura
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Sound for Osamu Takizawa
  • 1997 Japanese Academy Awards - Best Supporting Actress for Ayumi Ito
  • 1997 Moscow International Film Festival - Golden St. George Award

Misc Info

The actress who plays the prostitute, Glico, is named Chara. In real life Chara is a Japanese pop star with thousands upon thousands of fans.

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