A Star is Porn
By Kjell Fornander

Tokyo Journal

July 1992

Furtively rent it from the local video shop or slam it as sleazy and exploitative. The fact remains: you're living in the porn video capitol of the world.

She was thinking about money. She was thinking, as she emerged into the sunlight at Ikebukuro Station, that there wouldn't be enough.

She had always been curious about the world. She dreamed of an exciting career abroad after graduation--still two years away. During summer vacation, she would visit a friend in Europe . . . if she had enough money saved.

To kill time, she strolled toward Mitsukoshi to look at the window displays. On the pavement outside, a man was photographing two women. They were pretty but awkward; they didn’t look like professional models.  The photographer noticed her watching and approached. Was she a model? She looked like one. Was she interested in modeling jobs? Was she interested in adult video? There was a lot of money to be made. If, that is, she was interested.

She had watched videos with her boyfriend but hadn’t thought much about them. Now she felt her heart beating. The casually dressed man with the Camera and the easy smile wasn’t her idea of a talent scout. And he didn’t seem dangerous. Why not? she thought, and gave him her telephone number.

When he called three days later, she had already decided. She had turned the idea over and over in her mind. Her father, who worked at a government ministry, would kill her if he found out. But how else could she earn that much money in such a short time? And no one had to know.

She met the photographer again at a Shinjuku coffee shop. He said she looked like the actress Miki Imai, so suggested she call herself Mika Imai. Over the next few days they visited six production companies. A month later, Mika made her naked debut. She was embarrassed in front of so many people and nervously followed the director’s instructions, but didn’t feel any regret. She was paid 250,000 yen.

Not until much later did she discover that the photographer had kept almost a million for himself.

In Tokyo, over 11 AV or "Adult Videos" are made every day, all year round. Over 4,200 videos passed the censor in Ginza last year, most approved on the second try. That’s only the legal part of the business. There is also an unknown number of so-called ura videos which bypass the censor and sell under the counter.

AV is, in short, a significant industry. The market for pornographic videos is worth Y400 billion annually, accounting for around 30 percent of the country’s video rentals. Between 70 and 100 production companies operate in Tokyo (nobody is certain of the exact number), some fly-by-night, others well-established companies with a large staff.

The budget can be as generous as Y20 million, or as meager as 600,000. A typic31 production costs Y5 million and takes ten days to put together, of which two are fir shooting and one for taking still photographs. The stills are vital; the videocassette cover more than anything, except a well-known star, sells the video—and the production company usually has to move at least 1,000 copies to make a profit.

After the recent bankruptcy of AV’s largest production company, Diamond Visual, run by porn innovator Toru Muranishi, some observers believe the industry might be falling victim to its own profligacy. In a swamped market, some videos are selling less than half their break-even mark. The number of video rental shops nationwide has almost halved in recent years, with many surviving outlets shutting their "adult corners" in favor of "family viewing." And aggressive wholesalers now demand—and usually get—up to 60 percent discount on video prices from producers.

Yet the AV business still churns out the videotape. Industry sources claim around 70 percent of the action is genome—genuine intercourse, genuine ejaculation, genuine grunts and groans. Very little is exported, probably because of the censor’s mosaic blur around the sex organs. Some argue that this censorship gives AV and their stars cult appeal, that it has produced a specific cinematic language that sets Tokyo porn apart.

This gray area between video image and reality has probably also made it easier to recruit attractive, young women. Does intercourse actually take place? The lack of clarity in the finished AV product makes for an easy denial, if such a claim should prove necessary at a later date. Today, those in the industry claim, young women are queuing up to get on screen.

Shoichi Yoshimura glances around the coffee shop at the Washington Hotel in Nishi Shinjuku. Yoshimura, a video producer, claims that the industry has no shortage of female recruits. "How many? What a question:" he says. ‘They’re everywhere. I’d recognize one of them working here, if I looked hard enough."

The murky world of AV has no shortage of dirty-old-men types, but Yoshimura—not his real name—isn’t one of them. He’s a well-groomed, business-like man of 35 who would fit into any Tokyo office scene. He is also a porn pioneer. an old hand since the days when video drove porn films out of the movie theaters in the mid-eighties. his company, CineMagic, produces six to eight videos a month, specializing in bondage and stylish sadomasochism. It is among the established names in the business, employing ten lull-time directors, including Ruka Mikami,one of the few women in this guild.

‘In thc beginning, they were mostly girls crossing over from the roman poruno [romance or soft-core porn movies], struggling actresses who couldn’t get work." he explains. ‘Another group came from the soaplands and other parts of the sex Industry. They came for the money."

A background in porn videos is not necessarily a skeleton in the cupboard anymore. In some cases, it’s a career move.

But Yoshimura says the scene changed three or four years ago. Women still join up today for the money, but for extra money—money for shopping and travel and living it up in Tokyo’s expensive night spots. And now the prostitutes and strippers of soap lands have more respectable rivals: housewives, students, OLs at TSE-listed companies—young women whose only previous contact with the sex industry might have been a browse through the shelves of a Top Ten video shop. Sexual inexperience is no disqualification. Young girls can even auction off their innocence in ‘goodbye virgin" videos - another inventive genre in the repertoire.

Television played a decisive role in helping AV cross the invisible borders of probity. As more porn stars have gained celebrity status by appearing in advertisements and on talk shows, AV turned from taboo to fad—and a major source of income for the more successful women.

Kaoru Kuroki, who in her prime was Tokyo’s very own La Cicciolina, did most to change the image of porn. The first high-profile AV actress, she had a solid middle-class background. and was a Yokohama National University student when she started in the business. Kuroki appeared mainly in SM movies, making AV in general and SM in particular a political as well as a feminist issue. Soon after she shocked the public in 1988 with her unshaven underarms. Kuroki was regaling TV audiences in faultless keigo with her opinions on everything.

But Yoshimura at CineMagic has a simpler reason for AV’s popularity as Even a short-term career: he believes today’s youth have no morals. The desk in his Shinjuku office is thick with applications, each with a photo attached. Many of the women are remarkably beautiful. A few show their breasts or pose in underwear. ‘These are from only the past few months," Yoshimura says. He holds up one of the applications. "This one is from a housewife with two children."

As AV slipped into the entertainment industry’s mainstream, young women have become less afraid of the consec1uences of being discovered by parents and colleagues. Others plan on a short, six-month career and gamble on their chances of not being recognized in the overwhelming supply available.

In other words, a background in porn is not necessarily a skeleton in the cupboard anymore. In some cases, it’s a career move.

Most careers start on the streets. Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi are the hunting grounds where talent scouts prowl for young, single women, preferably those who look like new arrivals. The ruses are legion. Some scouts flatter and lie, or tempt with glittering TV and modeling jobs. Others lire more straightforward. Usually the scout receives �100,000 for introducing women to managers, the personal agents in the AV world. Some do apply directly to a production company, but it will usually refer the woman to an agent. Companies like to distance themselves from potential problems.

That’s left to the managers, who take on considerable responsibility for young country girls in the big city, fending off legal action and enraged parents and other occupational hazards. Or, depending on your point of view, they exploit women unscrupulously. Since this type of employment brokerage is illegal, agents lead a nomadic life, changing addresses on a regular basis.

But agents are well-paid for their services. The exploitative ones pay their girls a �200,000 monthly salary and pocket the remainder of the �1.5 million plus fee which the agency in turn charges the production company. But even serious agencies cream off at least 50 percent, leaving the woman with an average of 600,000 yen per video—there are many open palms on the road from the girl’s first, hesitant yes" to the first day of shooting.

An attractive leading actress can cost between 1.5 and 2 million yen. (Rui Sakuragi, the biggest star at present, makes V3 million a project.) But with extra income from interviews, promotions and magazine modeling, even a frugal young unknown should have over Y3 million in the bank after a year.

Yusei Maeda, a well-established manager, has about 20 girls in his stable. Two retire and two join during an average month. Maeda, who runs his business with three colleagues from a Sendagaya office, also owns a Roppongi bar called Pushikaru, where guests chat with AV girls past and present, including the legendary Toyomaru, an industry innovator. (AV historians will record Toyomaru as the first Western-style Japanese porn star. The lurid copywriter might describe her as insatiable and untiring, a woman who always grabs what she wants.")

"Everything is so much easier today," Maeda says during a still shooting session in a Roppongi studio with one of his stars, the bespectacled Natsumi Nosaka. "Attitudes have changed. Girls see it more and more as a career, and some can actually go on to other work."

The first thing Maeda discusses with a new actress is a career plan. There are some tough questions to address: is the woman only interested in a quick kill? Or is she considering breaking into showbiz? The latter route leads to media exposure and, sooner or later, a crack in the anonymity. If she’s only out for money, she will studiously avoid publicity and quit inside a year—the average life-span of an AV girl—with five or ten videos to her credit and an unknowing family bosom to return to.

Maeda gives his actresses stage names and fictional ages (18, 19 or 20—21 is already too old). Each girl has a personal profile which details her interests, background and sexual experience. It also includes what she will and will not do— whether she is prepared to engage in real intercourse, what kind of sex she refuses to perform, and so on. Of central importance is whether she will allow the male actor to ejaculate in her face. Only half the actresses give it the OK. There are, however, ways around this stumbling block.

The first appearance for an AV girl is as a so-called new face." At this stage, says Maeda, inexperience and innocence are her most important attributes. Viewers are invited to follow, from appearance to appearance, her sexual initiation, dawning self-awareness and gradual acceptance of her inner, dark depths. By the end of this pornographic rite of passage, her credibility as a new face is spent and she takes the role of a mature, voracious star.

After five or more movies, she specializes: SM, lesbianism, advanced group sex—in videos such as those in the Jesus Clitoris Superstar series (from V&R Planning, a company specializing in diverse perversions), in which the girl deals with nine male partners.

Outr� fields such as SM are for actresses on the home stretch of their careers, or stars who are not attractive enough. The money is the same; it is not the role but the appearance and the name that determines the fee. After making such videos, a woman usually cannot return to cute roles again, yet it is not uncommon for an old hand to re-emerge as a "new face" under a different stage name.

The career of an AV girl begins in the stack of applications on desks like Shoichi Yoshimura’s. From these, Yoshimura chooses 20 each month who he believes will sell videos. Then he arranges interviews with the woman, insisting first that he be told her real name and age—using under-18s, intentionally or not, can have serious legal consequences. Maeda, who has known Yoshimura for many years, always accompanies them to these events.

If the interview goes well, it’s time to meet the director.

Call me orthodox, if you like," says Akira Ishigaki. "I make neither SM nor rorikon [Lolita complex] videos." Pictures from his exhibition in New York in the mid-eighties hang in his Nakano studio. Ishigaki began as a stills photographer, but now concentrates on directing videos. In the last few years, he has made over 200.

Ishigaki is known for his aggressive documentary style and for an irresistible sort of shameless charm. He is also known for harassing and provoking actresses during shooting and sometimes getting into the action himself.

Ishigaki’s brand of video-making is part of the AV cult of amateurism. Most story-lines are as flimsy as the leading man’s G-string, but any plot is shattered when a member of the team suddenly passes in front of the camera, or when the director yells at the actress during shooting for faking an orgasm. Often the viewer witnesses the whole creative process, right up to when the makeup woman cleans up the exhausted actress and she walks into her dressing room for a shower. In other words, the documentary illusion is the story. The message is that just about anybody—the girl next to you in the subway, the OL in your office, even your girlfriend—is AV material.

"I try to create the impression that they have a background.’ Ishigaki says, "that they are going through an actual struggle in front of the camera. It won’t be a good video if there isn’t a little resistance. It isn’t good if the audience sees that the women are doing it just for money; it destroys their dream."

On the wall next to his cluttered desk, Ishigaki has pinned the profile of the woman who will star in his next video. She is young and uncommonly beautiful. She has long, straight hair and gazes from the photo with big doe eyes. It will be her first time. Beside almost every question about sex on her application, she has plainly written "n.g." ("no good"), including the question about real intercourse-—although she has added a coy condition in parenthesis, "it depends on the actor." Only Ishigaki really knows what will happen to the girl with the doe eyes.

‘My job is to get them horny and ready for the inevitable," he says. "It usually isn’t that difficult. They’re prepared for sex, but they hesitate. I demand more and more feeling. and they finally get drunk on the atmosphere. Sometimes they cry afterwards. and then I comfort them."

Although it is often the woman’s manager who deals with a reluctant actress. Ishigaki is proud of his not-so-gentle arts of persuasion. He does, however, avoid one taboo subject: "Never let the conversation get on to their parents."

Hayami:"You meet the girl in the morning, say hello, work, then say goodbye. They pass by like dolls. I’ve become a kind of Pavlovian dog."

One man who needs no persuad ing is Kenji Hayami. He left his Kyoto high school to try his luck as an actor in Tokyo and somehow ended up in roman poruno. Now, 11 years later. he has starred in 1,200 videos.

"It was different when I started," Hayami recalls. "Then it was never for real. There were long sections of dialogue between sex scenes, and something always hid what was happening from the camera."

pornblue.jpg (275526 bytes)
Whipping Boy:  The indefatigable Hayumi,
star of 1200 porn videos

Then Toru Muranishi arrived on the scene. Muranishi is the dirtiest of the industry’s dirty old men, the owner of the recently bankrupted Diamond Visual, a video giant which took porn to new limits and often beyond them. Muranishi launched Kaoru Kuroki’s career and has been convicted of using minors. Kenji Hayami believes Muranishi and other big video companies changed the industry for good. "Suddenly, you had to do everything," he says. ‘At first, I didn’t want to. And I thought I couldn’t."

Hayami’s early attempts did not go well. He was nervous and couldn’t perform. The turning point came in the mid-eighties during a now legendary session in Hawaii where Muranishi filmed 30 videos in as many days. At that time, Narita customs did not check video tapes being brought into the country (sex scenes are no longer shot overseas). Hayami and a fellow actor were on location for a month, while 15 or so women were flown out from Tokyo in turn.

Since then, Hayami had few problems with his performance. ‘In the beginning," he says. ‘I was very careful about what I ate: rare steaks and garlic. But the girls didn’t like the garlic, and I got nervous. I was thinking too much. The best thing to do is just live as naturally as possible."

Nobody in the industry says it’s easy to be an actor Hayami makes about ten videos a month. Men have no managers and earn a modest amount compared to women: 20,000 to 750,000 yen per day of shooting. As one of a relatively small group of well-established, professionally trained actors, Hayami usually gets roles that require a certain amount of dialogue and acting (by AV standards). Many men who appear in videos are enthusiastic amateurs with an honest interest in pornography; some of them. it is said, are salaryrnen from distinguished companies who doorstep production companies looking for work.

Hayami has rarely fallen in love with his female co-star. ‘You meet each other in the morning, say hello, work, then say goodbye. They pass by like dolls. Maybe it isn’t polite to say so, but otherwise it wouldn’t work. I’ve become a kind of Pavlovian dog: I know when it’s time. bit otherwise I don’t think about it. To be honest, I’m not attracted to women that do it for real—and most really do it these days."

Hayami is married with a son. His wife hrs always known about the source of family income, but didn’t think her husband actually had sex with his partners— until she read about it one day in Focus magazine. Hayami does not go into details of how this marital crisis was solved. But, he admits, his wife might still be jealous deep down.

Mika Fujioka waits with her manager, one of Maeda’s colleagues, on the corner in front of the Subaru Building in Nishi Shinjuku, the classic meeting place for AV teams. Mika, a tall, slim 20-year-old, begins shooting her seventh movie today with Kenji Hayami as her co-star and Shoichi Yoshimura the director.

Mika’s entry into the world of porn last August was anything but glamorous. She started working in Kabukicho at the age of 17 and, she says, "did everything but soap and SM." Her boyfriend forced her to quit working in bars last summer, so she launched into AV instead. He beat her when he found out in November, but she soon went back to work.

The adult video world was better than Mika had expected. ‘The women in Kabukicho say that AV is a dirty business," she says. "AV girls say the same thing about Kabukicho. I have experience in both. AV is better. It’s cleaner. The money’s about the same."

The CineMagic team arrives with the camera equipment in a truck, Hayami, meanwhile, drives his own car out to the studio, a large house next to a tennis club in a Saitama industrial zone. Each room has a bed but otherwise the place is sparsely furnished. A worn paperback copy of The Story of 0 lies open on a table, the only evidence of the previous team.

One man is already there, waiting in front of a bag of ropes. This is Iida sensei, the country’s leading rope-up artist who ties the knots in SM films. "But only rope," he says primly. "Anybody can do leather." There are many things to take into consideration: the woman’s height and strength, how she moves and how she is built. But untying is a job for the assistant. "My fingers are insured," Iida laughs, though he might not be joking. Iida is also an authority on suragodoi, an Edo era torture technique.

The story they will shoot today is a "classic." A poker-player (Kenji Hayami) wins his opponent’s wife (Mika Fujioka), then ties her up, whips her and rapes her until, of course, she finally realizes this is what she wanted all along. Her humiliated husband, meanwhile, peeps through a keyhole and masturbates.

In a room on the ground floor, CineMagic’s assistants have brought in piles of props: leather, lights, whips and boxes full of dildoes. In the kitchen, another CineMagic employee is tilling small plastic tubes with a mixture of egg whites and condensed milk: stage semen. ("A little sweet," Mika says. "It doesn’t taste bad.")

Hayami gives a short pre-shoot lecture. "Gargle. wear cologne and keep your’ fingernails clipped," he advises. "A shower before intercourse is a must, as is brushing your teeth before fellatio." One unmentionable in good shooting etiquette is AIDS; few in the AV business are willing to say much on the subject. There are rumors that some male actors are blacklisted by companies but it is unclear why. The common attitude is that the industry, like Japan itself, has not been penetrated by the virus.

The makeup artist is a personable young woman called Harue Kubota.   Harue says she didn’t want to get involved in AV at first, but now she does it several times a year. "It’s not as dirty as I thought," she says. "They’re fun people to work with and good for making contacts. A lot work in other businesses, too, like advertising and fashion."

Mika: "The women in Kabukicho say that AV is dirty. AV girls say the same thing about Kabukicho.    I’ve experienced both. AV is cleaner. The money’s the same."

There are about ten people in the room during shooting. Most of the time the lighting director scribble in his notebook while lida sleeps. There is no script. Yoshimura improvises from scene to scene, room to room. time after time, sensei is called in to tie his ropes. While the camera zooms in on the tortured expressions on Hayami and Mika's faces, one of CineMagic’s young assistants has to offer his bare back to add the sound effects of the cracking whip.

The make-up artist stands by with a large beach towel to cover Mika’s naked body between takes. She fixes any stray strands of Mika’s hair and watches for pimples or her buttocks. Hayami "comes" twice during the evening. The first time it is fake—egg white and milk—but a few hours later, it is genuine.

Between takes, it is difficult to see the easy-go-lucky Hayami as the perverted abuser of women he plays. He practices his golf swing with a whip and horses around on the set. Every now and then he massages Mika’s sore wrists and ankles. Mika sits up after a violent orgasm and yawns. There are bright rope weals on her thighs and wrists, but they don’t seem to hurt her. It’s only her seventh movie but already she’s seen everything; her second video, she says, felt like her tenth.

At last the lights go off. Hayami sits on the bed and smokes, while Mika wipes her face with a Kleenex. It’s midnight. The staff are chasing each other around the room with whips.

"Just another day at the office," Hayami sighs.

And what about Mika Imai? She made it to Europe for the summer.  She broke up with her boyfriend and continues to appear in videos. She soon realized that her freelance manager was cheating her. By then she had met Yoshimura. and he introduced her to Maeda.

She still looks like a student, dressed in jeans and sweater, with a straight, black leather jacket and hair in a neat ponytail. She uses a little too much makeup. She still lives at home. Her parents haven’t discovered her secret career but Mika thinks that some male classmates may be onto her secret. Her first money was spent on clothes and entertainment, but then she began to save.

"It wasn’t just the money," she now says. "Everything was so boring. School was boring. Home was boring. I wanted something to happen. I was curious about the people in this business, what they did, how it all worked, After the second video, I was even more curious.

"It’s not a job I’m proud of, but I like the people. They are more fun and free than other people I know. I’ve changed, I think. Before I was anxious about everything; now I’m more relaxed, more myself."

After ten videos, 23-year-old Mika Imai is thinking of ending her video career, perhaps with an SM video for CineMagic. "It’s uncomfortable and you always have to be thinking about where the camera is. I’ve never had an orgasm on camera. People think that AV girls are having sex, but for us it’s just video. But then an OL will watch it with her boyfriend and do the same thing. Then it’s real."

To read what's happening in Korea, see Behind the scenes of Korean adult films

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Added July 4, 1998