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A hard day’s grind for porn’s professionals

A shift at the coal face of Japan's huge adult film industry reveals a job like any other — except for the sex part

by Mark Buckton

Sex sells! And nowhere in the world does it sell quite as well as in Tokyo — or so it can seem.

Pornographic magazines by the armful can be picked up in most convenience stores, not to mention “exciting comics for men” boasting adult-themed manga and sections devoted to “delivery health” and other sexual services. Touts brazenly beckon passersby into neon-lit “soaplands” and other risqué establishments in the capital’s seediest areas, and Japanese-produced Internet porn offers up some of the filthiest, weirdest fantasies out there.

Japan comes in a distant second in per-capita spending ($157 in 2011) on pornography after voracious South Korea ($527), but when it comes to comparing the sizes of the countries’ homegrown porn industries, there’s no contest. So prominent is Japanese porn online and on DVD that claims of Japan, with a population less than half that of the U.S., producing twice as many adult movies as the States are not hard to believe.

One prominent actor — going by the moniker of Mumin, and with 2,000 titles to his name featuring upward of 1,500 girls — backs claims that 14 full-length porno movies are churned out daily in Japan. Mumin (the name is derived from his birthday, June 3) single-handedly adds an average of six titles a week to the national tally.

That overseas producers of videos and magazines now drop in Japanese terminology when describing the action on their product is telling, with a handful of obscene terms now part of the English-language porn lexicon.

The cultural exchange goes both ways, according to Mumin, who lists a veritable United Nations of girls he has worked with over the course of 10 years in the industry.

From Americans to Nigerians and South Koreans, not to mention more than a few Russians and other Eastern Europeans, the girls on the receiving end of Mumin’s talents have ranged from unknown newbies to globally recognized names.

But it is not just the nationalities of his co-stars Mumin sees as behind the growing market for Japanese porn overseas.

“We tend to go with more day-to-day storylines featuring regular guys, unlike on American-made DVDs,” he says. “There are few, if any, steroid-fueled actors in Japan’s AV (adult video) industry. Our dramas are far more realistic.”

The use of “regular guys” adds weight to the well-known line — often attributed to the world’s most famous male porn talent, Ron Jeremy — that men are mere props in adult movies. And sure enough, in Japan as overseas, the big money in the porn business follows the girls.

Some of the male actors in Japanese AV are literally only along for the ride — working for free — according to sources in the Japanese industry, with others even paying to appear in movies. A male talent who does manage to make the payroll can expect to earn a paltry ¥1,000 per movie at best for his first 10 or so productions, with payments increasing to between ¥10,000 and ¥15,000 for those who consistently deliver the goods. Only the cream of the crop can expect to take home in excess of ¥50,000 per session.

Stars on the female side, on the other hand, such as Maria Ozawa, Aoi Sora and Yuma Asami, with fervent fan bases in Japan, much of Asia and even farther afield, were reportedly able to command several million yen per movie at their peak, depending on content.

At the other end of the spectrum, amateurs and newcomers are also highly sought after, especially in recent years, and in particular by smaller filmmakers. And with several thousand new female faces debuting each year, there are plenty to choose from.

Whether they stay on in the industry after their first few movies come out and the novelty wears off is up to the individual. Some do, but most last less than six months, according to industry insiders.

Few earn the big bucks from the get-go, and with production budgets among smaller independent companies in the ¥600,000-800,000 range, the road to real riches for actresses can be long and hard.

One actress considering porn in the longer term is Shiori Tsukada. Not her real name, Shiori is a 19-year-old student at one of Tokyo’s more well-known universities.

Part-time she works in a cafe, but recently she has been earning as much in a day starring in adult videos as waiting tables part-time would bring in over several months.

In her first two months in the industry, Shiori made 10 movies, each taking just a day of intense filming on her part. And in the months since, according to her rather graphic blog, she has shown no signs of letting up or considering an exit strategy.

For her 11th movie, on an early autumn day, I caught up with Shiori, renowned AV director Akira Takatsuki and the Cinema Unit GAS film crew in a nondescript apartment building on a side street in the Togoshi Ginza area of south Tokyo.

A studio on one of the upper floors with two bedrooms, a huge Japanese/Western-combination living room and an equally impressive bathroom had been rented for the day. Over the course of the day, most of the rooms and even the entrance corridor would see their share of hardcore action.

On arrival, I was immediately welcomed by the boss and his crew, shown around the set and offered a coffee.

Shiori, already made up and fitted out in her first costume — bra and panties — in a small changing room off the main entrance hall, wandered in, said hello and sat down with her own coffee.

But with the clock ticking, the day’s filming soon began, with Shiori performing a vocal “solo” (masturbation) scene, a staple of almost all Japanese AV compilations.

After the first shoot, bentō boxes were delivered and everything stopped for lunch. Shiori sat in a dressing gown and little else at the table with Takatsuki and this writer.

Small talk ensued about her studies, her family — they have no idea what she’s up to — and single life. She has no boyfriend at present but is enjoying sex, she explained, which is why this is the perfect job for her, at least for the time being.

I asked if she was nervous, but with this being her 11th movie, she indicated that having sex within touching distance of a film crew no longer gives her the butterflies.

Takatsuki announced that lunch was over and that the next set needed to be prepared. As we waited, Takatsuki talked about his penchant for working solely with large-breasted women, with Shiori serving as a prime example.

A 30-year veteran in the business who still knocks out 50-60 movies in any given year, Takatsuki is arguably Japan’s most famous director in the AV subgenre revolving around well-endowed female talent. Because of this, girls with the right measurements — “at least a K-cup” — actively seek him out when looking to make a few yen, or on their quest for fame in the AV world.

Now, with thousands of titles behind him, Takatsuki is as respected in his field overseas as in Japan, with fans across the U.S. and Europe. Requests to work with the director have come from actors and actresses in France, Belgium and the U.S. in recent years, he says.

Regardless of whom he works with, he typically shoots six or more scenes in a day, with the common denominator being the female talent. As well as wearing the director’s hat, Takatsuki, now in his mid-50s, says he sees himself as playing a father-figure role to many of the girls, particularly the nervous first-timers.

Shiori, having been made up once more, then reappeared in a bright orange bikini more than a few sizes too small. Takatsuki gently coached her in her walking technique as she strutted up and down the corridor in high heels (a definite no-no in the average Japanese home) in preparation for her first POV (point of view) scene. (The desired effect of POV is for viewers of the finished product to feel as if they are the target of Shiori’s advances and subsequent handiwork.)

Next, stills were taken for use on the DVD cover and promotional materials, the corridor approach was filmed, and then another break. Shiori’s hair was retouched, a tad more rouge was applied to young cheeks that didn’t really need any, and only at this point did the first male talent finally appear from a side room.

The couple exchanged bows and the obligatory salutation of “yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” This was the first time they had met, and in all likelihood they would never meet again, such are the unwritten rules surrounding work in the AV industry. Afterward, there would no exchange of numbers, e-mail addresses or friend requests on Facebook. They didn’t even exchange names.

Positions were taken for the corridor-encounter scene, filming began, and in just three takes it was a wrap, albeit with a break for the actor to simmer down so that he didn’t peak too soon, thereby leaving the director with too little material to fill this particular portion of the DVD.

Throughout the filming, up to four individuals were never more than two meters from the action, with the cameraman and his boom-holding sidekick invariably the closest. An assistant director with a basket of tissues, drinks for the actors and condoms sat just off to the side beside Takatsuki.

As the cameraman intermittently shuffled in for tight close-ups, Takatsuki took these opportunities to convey instructions to both actors by way of messages scrawled on a small whiteboard held behind the camera.

In a pattern that became familiar throughout the day, the male talent — having fulfilled his purpose, supplying the parting “money shot” — got dressed (no shower) and prepared to leave.

But Shiori’s day in the spotlight was far from over. Just as the first male talent was leaving, two young men were settling into the lounge area, drinking coffee and checking mails as they waited to film a girl-boy-boy scene scheduled for a couple of hours hence. A smell of oils — perhaps Vaseline — hung in the air around the now-empty mattress in the apartment hallway.

The crew then prepped for the next scene, a girlfriend-boyfriend bedroom encounter starring Mumin and Shiori. Lights were carefully set up around and over the bed (the gear is transported in golf bags to avoid arousing suspicion when filming in hotels), shadows were checked, camera angles run though.

A large Sony monitor for Takatsuki to check proceedings and camera angles sat atop two plastic crates near the doorway. The whiteboard used to silently give instructions was wiped clean.

I was asked to stand in the corner to get a largely unobstructed view a meter or so away, just behind the assistant director with his basket of lubes, tissues, condoms and drinks. Around ¥30 million of equipment belonging to Takatsuki, cobbled together over the course of his career, lay around the room and in the hallway. Only the bed was uncluttered.

Again, the male talent was the last to enter the room. Basic greetings were exchanged, but no names, by two individuals who would soon be as physically intimate as it is possible for two human beings to be.

Professionalism permeated the atmosphere. Shiori’s “acting” was minimal, or perhaps just effortless, her pleasure seemingly genuine, perhaps because this one-on-one boyfriend-girlfriend scene with one of Japan’s more prominent actors was the nearest to “romantic” she would see that day. Unlike other scenes I endured throughout the day, the action was slow and gentle, just as the director had ordered. Kissing — skipped altogether in other more physical scenes — played a prominent role.

From time to time, one of the actors made the “time out” gesture to halt filming as they grabbed a drink, readjusted their position or that of the bedsheets, or just took a breather.

“Action” was called for the final time, and just prior to the climax, the camera moved in for a close-up of the actress as, out of shot, a condom was surreptitiously removed. As far as viewers of the DVD would know, it was never there in the first place.

Several hours later, with a few more scenes under her belt — some with one guy, others with three at one time — Shiori had earned a hefty pay-check (which she wouldn’t divulge) and Cinema Unit GAS and Takatsuki had another video in the bag to add to their long line of releases.

Filming was over, but editing back at the GAS offices in Takadanobaba would take time. All images of genitalia would have to be pixelated in order to meet Japan’s quirky regulations on adult content, and it would be a couple of months before the DVD was ready for release.

But for Shiori and Mumin, their jobs were done. Shiori had a few days off ahead of her, but Mumin had to be across town within a couple of hours for another shoot, although it was already dark. The following day, the actor had another two movies scheduled. It’s a tough life being a prop.

Whether or not the reported average of 14 adult videos was met that damp gray Wednesday, or even exceeded, is anybody’s guess. No official figures are kept.

What is assured is that somewhere in Tokyo, with the rising of the sun the following day, actors, actresses and film crews would be gearing up to add to the apparently world-topping total.

Send your comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Ron NJ

    Another thing to note regarding the relative size of the porn industries in Japan and America is that while America’s porn industry is de facto serving the entire world and not particularly aiming at any single market other than the ‘global’ one, Japan’s porn industry is almost entirely targeted at the domestic Japanese market (with perhaps some adventurous lads aiming at China’s), which makes not only the sheer amount of content Japan creates that much more staggering, but also calls into question just how much per capita consumption is in non-economic terms. While Japanese consumers may not be spending as much as SK on pornography, I’d wager that they “consume” it at far greater levels than most other populations – the only problem is that, as usual, finding hard, reliable figures regarding Japan is difficult due to entrenched bias in domestic research methods, but that’s a topic for an entirely different post.

    • Timothy Ware

      The article actually contradicts this.

  • Lux φ(..;)

    Interesting article. Do you know if there’s any regulations regarding the number of scenes an actress can shoot on a single day ?

  • blondein_tokyo

    There are definite problems with the porn industry and the way it treats women, but your way of infantalizing women as though they can’t EVER make informed choices is equally problematic.

  • blondein_tokyo

    This article just barely scratches the surface. The reporter didn’t even really say much here, other than “Japan does a lot of porn.” A real investigative piece on the industry showing the good, the bad, and the ugly would be so much more interesting. This seems like it was done for titillation rather than real journalism.