Masami Akita is perhaps best known as MERZBOW, Japan's leading exponent of 'industrial music', but simultaneously he has worked in performance art and is increasingly involved with KINBIKEN (1). The following interview was conducted (by post) in Jan/Feb 1992. There has been a certain degree of rewording of his replies for improved coherency. Masami Akita has double-checked this for misrepresentation and glaring errors.
When were you born?
I was born in 1956, in Tokyo.
I was an art school student. I studied painting. I had been in several rock groups.
And then formed MERZBOW?
MERZBOW is me, but I work with other people for live performances. I've released ten LP's, three CD's and numerous cassettes (2). We usually press five hundred to one thousand copies of each LP and virtually all have sold out, though I've never received much money. MERZBOW is basically run on a non-commercial basis. We still do 'extreme electronics' and recently perform every month.
Describe a MERZBOW performance...
Wall of noise - louder and harsher.
What music do you listen to?
Recently I'm fascinated by grindcore/death metal music such as MORBID ANGEL, CARCASS, NAPALM DEATH and SORE THROAT - especially their drums because I'm a drummer (but not a punk kid). Also ANAL CUNT are a very good group recently.
I've formed a 'conceptual' death metal group called BUST MONSTER with other noise musicians ('conceptual' because we can't play death metal as those people do). We cover material by WHITEHOUSE, CABERET VOLTAIRE, THROBBING GRISTLE, LEATHER NUN etc.
12 12 12 will be releasing our recordings soon, probably.
As MERZBOW and your other music projects are not your main source of income - what is?
I'm a writer. I began writing for a porno magazine in 1983 called CLASH. It's still being published and I still write for them. I work for several other sex magazines. I also work for intellectual magazines such as YASO, STUDIO VOICE, IMAGO etc. And I've had four books published.
Do you write for SM magazines too?
When my first book was published some SM magazines asked me to do work for them as this book focused on many SM issues. Now I'm writing regularly for BIZARRE MAGAZINE. Others are not SM but more abnormal porno. In Japan, SM is a very narrow term, so SM magazine people are always tedious for me to work for. They don't understand what I do. It's difficult writing about 'real' things in an SM magazine so I write about SM issues for other media magazines.
Tell me about your books.
The theme of the first book, ANAGRAM OF PERVERSION (1988), was polycentric sex in post-information capitalist society. I discussed many forms of pornography ...and concluded that sex was produced as materials in a capitalist world and not as an expression of a deeper depressed mind. The second book was MANNERISM OF HETERODOXA. The theme of the essays was Japanese occultism and ethnology. The third book was FETISH FASHION. It's the follow-up book to ANAGRAM OF PERVERSION but more articles on fetish fashion such as rubber, plastic, PVC etc; and theories about SM; also, a sub-theme was body manipulation in sex culture. My fourth book was published recently. It's BIRTH OF SEX SYMBOL and about glamour,
pin-ups, amazons, domina ...all female symbolism in the media.
From being essentially a writer, how did you get involved with KINBIKEN?
I met Chimou Nureki of KINBIKEN when I went to research a commission for 'The Archives of Sub-Culture' (a kind of library of SM history). I never knew him previously. We talked about seppuku and I discovered he was an expert in the field. That was about three years ago. I also met Youri Sunohara at this first meeting. A week later I sent him my first book. He replied promptly and invited me to his next harakiri video session. Nureki and Youri took me to Asakusa, a very traditional (1920's) downtown sector of Tokyo, and bought a special knife for seppuku. We discussed bondage and harakiri. I was invited to their monthly sessions and our friendship and common interest grew. I explained that I made music and Nureki was interested in using this for their performances. We also swapped ideas and wanted to collaborate more closely. And so it went on...
Nureki has been a very good teacher for me. I was inspired by their activities as previously I had been really bored with normal Japanese SM. It had lost the traditional beauty/abnormality. I like to support that.
Youri is the director and manager of KINBIKEN and RIGHT BRAIN (3). She is also the video cameraman (woman!) and model, of course. I don't know her age but she is one of the most unique girls I know. She is clever and sensitive but powerful. Sometimes she is a very strong mistress but sometimes she is also childish like a small boy.
How do you get the girls?
We have access to a few model agencies but we never use normal teenage models. In Japanese videos now, the teenager is very popular but most of them work only for the money and do not understand SM. So, Nureki always selects models who understand SM - it's very important in making good SM videos.
They do enjoy being tied up then?
In our videos the actresses always enjoy it - it's our policy. But this isn't true on other Japanese SM videos.
How many ways can a girl be tied up?
Nureki has a book called ROPE MAKE UP that explains thirty-six techniques with photos. He has more techniques but I do not know exactly how many. He says he's tied up three thousand girls and a different form each time! All Japanese rope forms have their own names and Nureki creates his own.
Who are the most popular bondage stars?
I must say the most popular bandage stars are in KINBIKEN videos! Youri Sunohara, Naomi Sugishita, Hiromi Saotome, Kyoko Nakamura and so on. Kyoko is an ex-local TV star and she's creating her own B&D world which is very much inspired by fifties American bondage. She is a unique person, I think. I did another session with her last December (4).
What's your actual role within KINBIKEN now?
Recently I have become a video cameraman, a position I share with Youri. Originally my role was basically 'observer'. I watched their sessions and wrote articles influenced by them. Also I gave them ideas, particularly in regard to harakiri and rubber and other strange things. I directed one harakiri video for them - LOST PARADISE (5).
I've noticed there's generally little, if any, editing...
We don't do too much in the harakiri videos except for my own LOST PARADISE. Other videos I wasn't involved in editing. They like the simple editing because they think video is more like documentary than film. For me, editing is important - my concept is always towards the movie because id like to make something different from them. We have separate ideas, sometimes I have difficulty with them because I'm more an artist. But I've had a lot of influence from mania people (6). I'm learning lots. They ARE interested in my ideas but if they made videos solely from my ideas the videos wouldn't sell! So we always use our common-sense to reach a careful balance of each other's ideas.
Your soundtrack on LOST PARADISE is very effective. What other soundtracks have you done?
I made most of the harakiri soundtracks but until recently they didn't have a very good sound editing machine. I think the best is LOST PARADISE. My soundtracks will appear on a CD released by EXTREME soon (7).
Are the videos released commercially?
They are sold by an independent network but they are not underground videos. We never show pubic hair, genitals, blow jobs, fucking, vibrators, etc - chiefly because real rope mania people do not like that and we don't like real black market product. Our videos are sold in a few maniac stores only and mail order.
Do the videos have to be submitted to a board for approval?
So who censors Japanese videos?
We have two censor systems. IF we sold videos commercially we'd have to pass the VIDEO CENSOR FOUNDATION. Our videos cannot pass them because our videos always have no plot and only show bondage etc. If we made a story and bondage scenes were included - no problem. For the same reason, our videos that only show harakiri blood performances are no good for commercial release. Secondly we self-censor, meaning we never show pubic hair or fucking. If we show that without the mosaic (8) we'd go to jail!
Would you show genitals and pubic hair if you could?
Personally I don't hate genitals, so I'd like to make a more natural situation.
But we can't within present law.
Is it safe to show semen, shit, piss...?
Semen, shit and piss are okay but pubic hair and genitals are not. It's because of the Japanese emperor system (9).
What's the government line on SM/bondage?
They attacked SM before very hard in the 1960's because old SM people had a very anti-government stance. But now SM media people are stupid - no political stance any more so the government is safe. I think a few more normal porno magazines are more political and aggressive than other SM magazines such as SM SNIPER. The people at SNIPER are very conventional. I think that situation is very different in the West. I think Western SM people are very political, aren't you?
Tell me about 'underground' videos...
We call them URAMEDIA. They're uncensored porno videos and magazines (not so many now). Almost all are produced in Osaka. Sometimes they run into trouble with the police but I think the police have good friendship with the yakuza (10), so they never know about them.
Is it traded by mail.
Mostly. Today I found a poster in my mail box for an underground porno video service that delivers to your door just like pizza! (11)
In addition to URAMEDIA, do the yakuza control SM too?
I don't think so. They are involved with underground porno media and 'soapland' prostitution parlours (12) rather than SM. We have a prohibitive prostitution law but soapland is safe because the yakuza pay money to the police.
What's the popularity of SM videos in Japan now?
It's declined. A lot of SM videos have become more normal fuck videos - censored of course. Most commercial SM videos are pretty bad. But some are good - Nureki has worked on some as director or rope technics. Nobody knows ropes as well as Nureki.
How many SM/porno videos are released per month?
Commercially, about two hundred each month.
How many SM magazines?
About six or seven regular SM magazines I think.
Where are these materials sold?
Just specialist stores, SM shops, big porno shops, video rental stores... but you can find SM books in local secondhand book shops easily (13).
Do SM shops get raided?
No, if they show pubic hair, yes!
Do women buy SM?
A few, yes.
Do you have feminists?
Yes, feminism is very popular recently within the Japanese intellectual scene (influenced from the USA) but they haven't any ideas about SM like radical feminists in America. I'm very bored.
I've heard about a recent clampdown on porno/violent material?
Yes, I think it stems from the case of Miyazaki who killed children and was an 'otaku' (they are very into manga and animation movies - 'mother complex' cases!). Otaku became very popular from that and childish sex manga (I hate them!) became a problem. GUINEA PIG and horror films were banned for a short while but not permanently.
What do you think of American bondage etc?
I think they mostly have no policy in regard to ropes, but clothes and devices are very good (rubber, leather, PVC, etc). I respect that Irving Klaw created the bondage business and presented John Willie's works. I think Willie was the most important in the fifties bondage art scene.
What do you make of German SLAVE SEX materials?
I enjoy SLAVE SEX and MADAM X videos - very funny and painful! I hope they use more traditional torture dungeon equipment.
And English SM magazines?
I appreciate that SKIN TWO made an interest for SM/fetish and youth culture. In Japan, SKIN TWO is a big influence for SM magazines and fetish fashion. AZZLO who introduced the SKIN TWO style became very popular on the club scene in Tokyo. Otherwise I was very inspired by ATOMAGE and DRESSING FOR PLEASURE magazines - especially the bizarre gas mask maniacs. I found that pleasure for the first time in these magazines.
What are you currently working on?
My current favourite project is TRUE ROMANCE. It's a performance group of three people - myself, Sakaibara (ex-DAIRAKUDAKAN, performer) and Seido (machinery). We use lots of fake meats, blood and real medical equipment, machines, video, a woman's body, sound, water...etc. It's a kind of simulation of sixties meat performance and blood rituals. In November  we performed in an art university. It was an installation for 'Dark Pornography' including sex freaks, car crashes, carcasses, autopsies, etc. We planned to set up microphones in the ladies rooms and secretly broadcast the sound live but unfortunately the walls were too thick, so instead we made a 'fucking chicken machine'! We did a lot. The performance was a success. The hall became a blood pool. Three members of the audience were shocked and left. The events were videotaped.
In our recent performance we used the theme of 'Onnainu' (doggie-woman - but it's very different from the usual maso-woman as dog situation. The woman is a dog but her character is not only as slave - her personality is changed to animal). This character was originally created by illustrator Asaji Muroi, who worked for over twenty years in the Japanese underground SM scene. His illustrations are very popular in SM mania. Our performances can be seen on a RIGHT BRAIN video. We use the maniac world of SM and fetishism for contemporary performance art - no satanism or religious concepts, we're tired of all expression like that. We have a lot of plans for the TRUE ROMANCE project. We'd like to make videos and CD's in the future.
What are your future plans with KINBIKEN/RIGHT BRAIN?
RIGHT BRAIN has now ceased. KINBIKEN have another subsection for bizarre films. We plan to make new harakiri videos. There will be more guts and blood videos. I'll be using the SFX techniques we discovered in the TRUE ROMANCE performance work. The next harakiri video we plan to make at a film show and freak theatre staged by the producers of the animation movie of Suehiro Maruo's SHOJO TSUBAKI (14). The filmmakers have rented a shrine - lots of real show people will join and we'll make a harakiri video on the night of the show.
Any last comments?
Do latex people in England wear mackintoshes to fit into their environment? I hear that in England it is raining every day!
1. KINBIKEN are a small bondage video company
in Tokyo who have now been in operation for six or seven years
and have notched up a catalogue of over one hundred self-produced
titles, as well as publishing a quarterly newsletter/magazine.
They see their work as part of the deep rooted Japanese tradition
of 'kinbaku' (rope bondage). Indeed their ropemaster, Chimou
Nureki, is possibly one of the most noted in Japan. [back]
2. The current MERZBOW press release lists several new or imminent releases by MERZBOW alongside compilations including his contribution. Plus yet another three upcoming releases. [back]
3. RIGHT BRAIN is an off-shot of KINBIKEN for the more unusual kinks and harakiri films of Masami Akita. [back]
4. This sultry lady is brimming over with charisma and star quality. Her eyes and dagger looks are unique and her large breasts an obvious asset in Japan. But it's her idiosyncratic squeals, shrieks and squirming that make her the perfect bondage model. She probably idolises Betty Page but in my view pisses all over that over-rated pin-up. Other characteristics include her kinky line in attire, managing to manoeuvre her ass/crotch innocently into the camera at every opportunity, drooling by the bucket-load when ball-gagged and her studied insolence. Kyoko has set up her own video production company (MURER BOND DIVISION) and has very personal ideas about bondage. The recent release that I saw, BONDAGE LIFE 3, was really quite funny (sometimes maybe unintentionally?) even without understanding the dialogue. It takes the form of short episodes - bondaged girl attempting to do the housework (and succeeding dextrously well); a 'How to Chloroform' skit done as a TV commercial comparing two brands; an unsuspecting victim being tied up in a small suburban street, to a background chorus of cats'n'dogs and children playing, as people pass by with scant concern for her plight (!); and so on... interspersed with a comical newscaster. [back]
5. LOST PARADISE is the most intensive RIGHT BRAIN release so far. As the Japanese female gender goes, the actress (Asako Mochizuki) is tall, sinuous and mean looking, dressed here in military uniform. The soundtrack is equally uncompromising slowly building from white noise to an impenetrable multi-layered wall of sound as Asako slits her abdomen, spilling intestines and other contents in a widening pool of blood. [back]
6. 'mania' = SM and strange tastes. [back]
7. RIGHT BRAIN AUDILE - MUSIC FOR BONDAGE PERFORMANCE. [back]
8. Computerised grid over offending areas. [back]
9. Masami pointed me in the direction of a Roland Barthes essay SURFACE KINGDOM. But, as you may know, the emperor is regarded almost as a god, very sacred (and mostly unseen) . So, the 'centre' of Japan's government being obscure, Japanese accept their irrational censorship as a decreed fact of life. To question it would be un-Japanese, but attitudes are changing. Some people (including Masami Akita, needless to say) now want to see radical reforms of the censorship laws and the emperor system. [back]
10. Japanese mafia. [back]
11. It's true - the most common item of junk mail i receive here are A4 flyers of SM and lolita videos. [back]
12. For further information about soapland, and a good general background to all aspects of sex in Japan, i can heartily recommend PINK SAMURAI by Nicolas Bornoff. [back]
13. Videos in Japan are expensive. KINBIKEN videos cost 10,000 yen ($100) each for 30 minute films and up to 15,000 or 20,000 yen for longer productions. Masami adds that most people in fact rarely buy video tapes. Video companies sell to rental stores where the tapes can be hired cheaply (300 - 400 yen). The majority of SM magazines are A5 size and 200 pages or more. Costs range from 1000 to 2000 yen for full colour photo books. Some of the newer magazines such as BIZARRE are more obviously influenced by Western magazines. [back]
14. Published in English as MR ARASHIS AMAZING FREAK SHOW by Blast Books. [back]