Company Matsuo and the World of Japanese Adult Video
- 29 December 2006
Japanese AV - A Short Introduction
Japanese Adult Video, or as it is known in the local short form, AV, is an incredibly diverse universe. It sure is porno by all standards - if creating and selling explicit depictions of sex for the purpose of arousing the viewer can be agreed on to be the definition of pornography. AV is cheap and ubiquitous all over Japan. Every single video store in the country has a usually rather large section devoted exclusively to this genre.
But while most other cinematic forms of expression made in Japan have found plenty of devotees in the West, only few Japanese adult videos have ever made it to Western shores. Festivals specializing in Japanese films of all genres, including such Japanese specialties like kaiju movies and anime abound in Europe and North America but where are the AVs? Sure, Japanese porn has the problem that no genitals can be seen in the videos. They are all hidden behind pixels - a rather strange sight for Western viewers. But nonetheless, AV is a fascinating field.
First, a few distinctions should be made between the main areas of erotic / pornographic cinema in Japan:
First of all, there are the pinku eiga (pink films) which have been made since the early 1960s. Satoru Kobayashi's Flesh Market (Nikutai Ichiba, 1962) is generally considered to be the first entry into the genre. While showing a wide array of sexual passions, often extending into gratuitous violence and weird pervert fantasies, pink films usually make use of skilled actresses and actors, show only partial nudity and the sex is mainly simulated.
Then there were the ura eiga (illegal porn) which date back to the early days of cinema. They showed real, uncensored sex and were generally short films, about 8 to 10 minutes each. Unlike Western Blue Movies of the black-and-white era, which often featured elaborate plots, ura eiga usually showed nothing else than a couple in a traditional Japanese tatami room, engaging in intercourse. Ura eiga were most often shown in onsen hot spring towns. For the male crowd, the physical relaxation of the hot springs was often supplemented with prostitution and the red light districts of these towns were also the places to enjoy strictly illegal shows of ura eiga. Today, the ura eiga has been replaced by the ura video, illegal, uncensored porn videos which are most commonly available under the table at video stores. For trusted customers only.
Adult Video developed in the beginning of the 1980s when VCRs became widely available in Japan. People started to watch movies at home and of course, they also wanted to see sex on the TV screens they had hooked their VCR up to. In these early days, AV was dominated by the established pink movie studios like Toei and Shin Toho. They simply transferred films they had already shot to video and made them available to the new home-viewing market, often in shortened versions. With the market quickly growing, the studios soon started to make films directly for video viewing. These films, even though shot on video, just continued the pink film tradition and adhered to the pink film rules and limitations.
While the AVs produced by the pink studios were expensive productions mostly centered on famous actresses, a new generation of aspiring pornographers soon discovered that working in video was cheap and offered a whole range of new possibilities. The easy portability of the camera equipment was one, the endless hours of footage that could be recorded at extremely low cost was another.
The first director who took full advantage of these new possibilities was former pink director Tadashi Yoyogi. With his Onanie video series (early 1980s) he almost single-handedly introduced to AV the essential elements that shape most of its productions today: the documentary-style exploration of the hidden sex life of Japan by employing real sex and non-professional performers.
Onanie became a surprise hit and attracted the attention of a new group of investors who had so far been rarely attracted to film. The publishers of ura-bon (illegal underground sex books) and bini-bon (vinyl-wrapped porn books) thought they had stumbled upon a gold mine and went right into the business, forming their own AV production companies.
As they had to compete with the pink film studios while working on much smaller budgets, the use of real sex became their trump card. This decision was partly inspired by Nagisa Oshima's still controversial In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no Koriida, 1976). This French-produced arthouse movie used scores of scenes of actual sex to tell a sad story of deadly passion to great effect. On the other hand, there was a strong influence from the illegal ura eiga. In the early 1980s, an underground sex flick named Sentaku-ya Ken-chan (Little Ken from the Laundry Shop) suddenly shot to fame. Nobody knew (and still nobody knows) who made this film and when exactly it was made. But plenty of film prints circulated at the time and were then copied to video. Mainstream magazines wrote about the film, it became the hot topic of the day. As a direct copy of an ura eiga, the video version of Sentaku-ya Ken-chan was of course strictly illegal - but that the press tied it in with the new real sex videos was better advertising than any money could buy.
Of course, the sex in the new AVs was for real - but it was still censored. The whole bodies of the participants in the sex scenes were shown, even in close-ups. But the genitals and pubic hair areas were covered with electronic dots, with pixels, or to use the term of the AV industry, mozaikusu (= mosaics). As long as the pixels were used, anything on screen was permitted. Sperm could squirt out of the pixels and hit the actresses in plain view, no problem. The body parts that were hidden in the pink movies by planting furniture or flower pots between the camera lens and the actress's / actor's private parts could be freely filmed now - they only had to be obscured by the mosaics in the editing process.
These pixels originated from the Japanese censorship of foreign films. Nudity scenes in Western films had traditionally not been cut out but the genitals of the actors were covered with black dots or white fog spots. This later softened to the pixels which allow a certain degree of the original image to come through.
To ensure that this regulation was adhered to and to protect the new AV industry from government crackdowns and police arrests, a new self-censorship body was created by the AV companies. Modeled on Eirin, the film censorship board run by the film industry which was also responsible for the pink productions, the new Viderin (short for Video Rinri Kyokai) was established. The industry heads knew exactly what an anarchist bunch the AV directors were and they played hardball right from the beginning: to give Viderin the necessary authority to enforce the rules, they hired retired police officers and government officials to run the censorship board.
Today, AV is a giant industry. But the field is extremely diversified - the pink studios still play a big part in it as do a myriad of smaller companies, often specializing in satisfying more obscure customer tastes. Two main fields within AV can however easily be distinguished: tantai and kikaku. Tantai productions usually come from the big companies, are expensively made and focus on one star actress. Generally employing beautiful girls, they strive to be very soft and very cute. Kikaku on the other hand employs several girls per video, usually 4 or 5 of them, and they are often neither cute nor good-looking but much more daring in what they would do in front of the camera. These videos tend to explore the kinky aspects of sexuality and are largely made by the smaller companies. The main reason being that their production costs are much smaller than that of the tantai videos. Tantai girls are stars and they are paid from 1 million or 2 million yen upwards per video (about 8,600 to 17,200 U.S. dollars) - while kikaku girls make something like 100,000 Yen to 200,000 yen per film (about 860 to 1,720 US dollars). Still, the two styles supplement each other. Many male viewers want both from girls... the cute and the kinky side.
While the tantai girls are stars or idols, as glamorized starlets are called in Japan, the kikaku girls tend to be talents, which means they are amateurs. The recruitment of these talents is something uniquely Japanese. "Model agencies" or "talent agencies" employ scores of so-called scoutmen. These are young men who scour the streets of the Tokyo districts most popular with the fashion-conscious young crowd for promising girls. They talk up young women and offer them jobs in the music or fashion industry. Partly, these jobs are actually jobs as fashion models or extras in TV productions, even pop singers are sometimes recruited this way - if the record company is interested more in some particular look of the singer rather than in vocal talent. Some girls dress up and parade the streets of Shibuya or Harajuku hoping to be approached by a scoutman and landing such a job. In many cases, however, the model agency will ask the girls if they are willing to participate in AV productions. And many young women do say "yes" to this question - as evidenced by the incredible number of AVs out there employing talents recruited right off the street. They are usually in for the quick yen they can earn by appearing in an AV production. Or they might see the enterprise as an adventure or a way to start a modeling career.
There are too many styles and subgenres within kikaku to list here. But to name just a few of the most important / most common: first of all, there are many videos which resemble topics that pink movies already deal with, straight heterosexual sex, often including some sort of fetish (school teachers, school girls, nurses) or some particular form of violence like rape (a very big field in AV) or kinbaku (Japanese bondage). But AV also developed genres unique to the video format. Bukkake is one of them (group male ejaculation on a female body, preferably on the face) as well as the very special case of the intimate documentaries of hamedori.
The majority of Japanese AVs employ elements of documentary filmmaking to some degree. But no subgenre in the world of AV takes documentary to such extremes as hamedori. In short, hamedori are a kind of pornographic diary films with the male lead - who is usually the cameraman / director - filming himself having sex with the talent or actress. He has his camera in his hand while receiving blow-jobs or placing it on the night table while engaging in intercourse, sometimes visibly moving it into the right direction while the action is going on. This certainly provides pictures of immediate power. No cast and crew - only two people getting it on and you can see it all straight from the very personal perspective of the guy while he is "at it" [ 1 ].
But sex is not the only part selling hamedori videos or DVDs. At least as big a sensation as watching the sex is to see how ordinary the girls are who "act" in the videos. They could sit next to you on the subway in the morning, they could be the waitress serving you the beer in the evening... keep on dreaming. It's dreams that hamedori sells, dreams about possible sexual encounters Japanese men wish to have but can't... or at least not enough of them. But the images sold are real - as real as you can get.
Company Matsuo - The master of hamedori
The man who made hamedori what it is today is Company Matsuo. He turned a fledgling subgenre of porno into the intimate viewing experience hamedori has become over recent years. Let's review one of his typical AVs, like Auction 01 or Auction 02, both made in 2004. The films (which are actually shot digitally and sold on DVD) feature quite a number of intimate encounters Matsuo had with a great variety of women.
Typically, Matsuo places ads in "Ladies comics" (sex manga magazines for women) asking for daring girls to call him for a meeting. The film segments start when one of them actually calls - Matsuo films himself receiving the call and making arrangements on where to meet. Then, we see Matsuo traveling to where the girl is living. Matsuo seems to enjoy traveling a lot and he films it diary-style. Pictures and scenes from the various train stations, glimpses out of train windows, everyday images of Japan are always his introduction to where he goes. Eventually, he will meet the woman - be that in her hometown or a resort town chosen by her. Sometimes, she will tease him and make him follow up leads to find her, posting signs where he should go. But mostly, she will be right there at the station or at a previously agreed-upon meeting point. Matsuo is a very soft-spoken, likeable guy and that certainly helps to get things started from then on. But it's clear from the beginning, the girls will get paid and some sort of sex will happen between the two participants.
But first of all, Matsuo wants to get to know the girl he meets. They talk, they joke, they try to find some easy way to relate to each other... and everything is recorded on camera: her talking about her motivations meeting him, about her life, about her dreams. Finally, they will go to a hotel or to her home.
By that time, the viewer already knows the woman fairly well. Some girls really like to proceed with the sex and others are more reluctant. Whatever happens, Matsuo will film it. Even if the girl finally says "no", he will record it on camera and let it stand as just that. Amazingly, the women in the videos do open up very much about themselves and most of them are not shy about the sex part either. If you want to learn about how Japanese girls really think about life and what they want... you can find a lot of insight here.
Matsuo himself was born in 1965 in Aichi Prefecture in central Japan and from his high school days on, he wanted to get into TV. After he completed technical college, he joined a music television company. That turned out to be a big disappointment - instead of caring about the music and trying to visualize what the bands had in mind the company just followed mechanical scripts. Perhaps not surprisingly, the company went bankrupt soon after. Out of a job, Matsuo met an old friend in a bar who asked him to join the world of AV... but why don't we let him tell the story himself?
In February 2006, I met up with Matsuo at his new and spacious office in the fashionable Harajuku area of Tokyo, a district famous for being the primary hotspot of Japanese youth culture.
Johannes Schönherr: How did you come to call yourself Company Matsuo?
Company Matsuo: That dates back to junior high school. At that time, I started my own "company", consisting only of myself, and I sold juice and self-made bento box lunches to my friends and classmates. Every morning, I went to school carrying 20 lunch boxes for my classmates. Everybody started to call me Company. It became my pen name and I've used it throughout my film career.
Can you talk first a little about the history of hamedori?
Hamedori-style films have been made since the early 1980s. The term hamedori itself came into use from about 1988, 1989 on. It used to be a rather small corner of AV but it has become big since then.
V&R Planning was the first AV company you worked for?
Yes, that's correct. I started working for V&R Planning in 1988, at age 22.
At that time, was V&R already a rather big independent company?
No, it was very small. I was the fourth employee they hired and the company was only in its second year then.
V&R was started by Kaoru Adachi, right?
Yes, that's right.
Was V&R focusing on documentary style AV right from the beginning?
Yes. Adachi came from TV and had mainly worked as an import agent for foreign films there. He introduced Monthy Python to Japan, among other things. But he was mainly interested in weird documentaries, like death documentaries and these things. That's his taste.
He didn't know how to shoot a film. When he started his own company, he just went ahead and shot documentaries the way he thought they should be. It was a very weird company but Adachi tried to make all these very serious videos.
What does V&R stand for?
It means Visual & Retail. Not Violence & Rape, like many people think (laughs).
You worked at V&R at first as an assistant and in 1989, you started to make your own films within V&R. What were your first films like? Were they already hamedori?
No, I started with hamedori in 1991. Before that, the films I shot were dramas.
I read that the late Yumika Hayashi got you into shooting hamedori?
No, at least not directly. I worked with Yumika Hayashi from 1989 on. To be honest, I loved Yumika Hayashi. We even went together to Paris and London and shot videos there. My movie Hardball Penis (1990) was my declaration of love to her - and it starred her [ 2 ]. For the films I did with her, however, I used other actors. But I felt that was very unnatural. Because of her, I felt that hamedori might be the most natural way to shoot for me. That I can make more immediate and better films that way, that with hamedori I can both express my own feelings towards the girl in the video much better and get much closer to her, get her to open up about herself, to show her true emotions. It is very important to me that I develop a close relation with the girl, that I like her. Otherwise, I can't make a good film.
That was certainly the case with Reiko Miyazaki.
Yes. She started out as an amateur in an AV by me, I shot the first AV she was ever in. That was in 1991 and by that time I had already made hamedori my main way of shooting. That first film with her was Make Me an Actress (Watashi wo Joyu ni Shite Kudasai), then we shot a series called Ripe Tits (Ureta Boin). With these videos she became the first girl who made the transition from amateur to well-known actress in my films. [This collaboration also made Matsuo the well-known director he is today - J.S.]
While you were working at V&R, you also wrote the story lines of a manga series named Occupation Adult Video Director. Can you talk about that?
Yes, I wrote the story lines. It's all non-fiction, Hideo Iura did the drawings. These manga came out in 1997 and 1998, 5 books altogether. Published by Akita Shoten. It's all about my work, about the girls involved in my AVs, about the people at V&R, about Kaoru Adachi... about everything that went on at that time.
Today, V&R is a rather big company?
They are kind of in the middle. There are a lot of big companies in the AV market now but V&R is not one of them. The big companies usually don't make interesting videos. In that regard, the smaller ones are much better. V&R is definitely one of the weirdest out there.
You were also working on the Junk [ 3 ] series V&R were putting out? Their death documentary series shot in South America?
Those videos were made in about 1989. V&R didn't make only AV, they also went abroad to shoot death videos. Cameraman Takeshi Ishikawa was working for V&R and he had a special interest in hermaphrodites. For that he built up contacts with a Brazilian tabloid paper, he was very informed about Brazil. He told V&R: "If you want to shoot death videos, you should go to Brazil." So, Adachi, Ishikawa and I went to Brazil together and we stayed there for about 2 weeks with those newspaper people.
The newspaper photographers listened in to police radio and went right to the scenes where things had happened. The police in Brazil were slow, usually the photographers arrived at the scene first. In Japan, the police always hide death scenes from public view. In Brazil, they didn't do that. Everything was out in the open.
You went to accidents, to murder sites?
To both. To everything. They had a lot of murders there. I had no problems shooting those things. It was not enjoyable but... at the time I felt that only I could do that work, I had a sense of being on a mission. ...Maybe... Basically, you can't shoot this kind of thing. But I had the opportunity to do it and went ahead... But I definitely prefer AV. There are parallels between death videos and sex videos. They're both about things which are very common and part of human nature, but which everyone tries to hide. We open the lid and make it possible to see these things.
Junk was a series. On which episode did you work?
I worked on part six.
In which city was that shot?
In Rio de Janeiro. Rio is my favorite city and that is not because of the deaths I shot there. It's a beautiful city, including everything from the very bright to the very dark sides. From the statue of Christ on top of that mountain to the favelas, the slums, to skyscrapers, to beautiful streets and white sand on the beaches. From beautiful girls to gangs, to homeless people, to drug dealers and murderers. Everything is present and alive and has a place in that city. It's a powerful place. Beautiful and frightening at the same time. I went there only that one time but I'm still fascinated by it.
No hamedori in Rio?
Not at all. I shot some hamedori in America and Europe but I couldn't do it the way I really wanted there. One big reason was of course language. You can't take a translator to a hamedori shoot. (laughs) But I think that the cultural differences were much bigger than just the language part. With hamedori I want to go inside the mind of the girls, I want to explore what they think, how they live, what their dreams and the realities of their lives are. I want to show the hidden, dirty, passionate sides of life. All I can do in foreign countries is film sex. That's not enough for me and I'm not satisfied with that. If I would only want to film sex scenes, I could easily use actors to have sex with the girls. There would be no need for me to be in the pictures. With hamedori, I want to explore why a girl is doing this or that, her motivations and her thoughts. I want to portray her personality. With Western girls, I can't do that. They may like sex, and they may be very open about it, but I can't get as close to them as I can get to Japanese girls. I can't really grasp their personality. And that means that I can't shoot good videos with them.
What about other Asian countries?
America and Europe have a long porno tradition. They are already open about sexual presentation on the screen. But the Asian countries are very much behind. They have very strict morals and don't have much in terms of a porno industry. Japan is far ahead of them.
You worked for V&R up until when?
Until 2004. Then we started Hamajim, our current company.
What does Hamajim mean?
Hamada Shashin Jimusho (Hamada Picture Office), but that was then shortened to Hamajim. Everybody called it that and the shorter name was easier to write on the receipts. Now, the name is often made even shorter - it's mostly just HMJM now. We named the company after our cameraman Mr Hamada. He is our senior and we all respect him a lot. He is the boss here.
How many people are currently working at Hamajim?
Now it's 7 men.
What is the average budget for a Hamajim production?
For example... Mai Hirose & Shinobu Ebihara (2004), named after the two actresses it features, was about 2 million yen or less (about 17,200 U.S. dollars), including the DVD jacket. Athens Marathon (2004) was shot in Greece during the Olympics. That was 3 million (about 25,800 U.S. dollars). Basically, it's about 2 to 3 million per film.
I can imagine that the pure hamedori movies like Auction 01 and Auction 02 (both 2004) involve a lot of travel expenses? You traveled all over Japan to shoot them.
That was actually rather cheap. If we shoot in a studio, then it gets expensive. The studio alone will be about one million yen (about 8,600 U.S. dollars). For that money, I can travel to quite a lot of places.
You basically go to meet the girls in their home towns, their natural environs?
Yes, that's what I basically want.
You always get very intimate, personal portraits of the girls you meet. You catch the way they really are. They speak a lot about themselves in the videos, including their motivations to participate in them. However, what do you think are the main motivations for the girls to be in your films?
It's of course different from girl to girl but usually money is the main motivation. But there is not so much money to be made by being in a segment of a hamedori video. The girls are paid about 50,000 yen for a meeting (about 430 U.S. dollars). That means they must have other motivations as well when they call me. That is often curiosity, a lust for adventure, they might want to get out of the stress of their ordinary life, and some are simply interested in sex. But usually, they really feel relaxed and enjoy being in the video. By the way, you told me that you are German. Funny story here. I actually tried to make an AV in Germany. I went to Berlin with a Japanese girl two years ago. My plan was to shoot how I get a blow job while I drive down the autobahn at 300 kilometers an hour. In Japan we have very strict speed limits, so that sounded really exciting. I think it's a dream of all men - driving fast and having sex at the same time. Now, I had the Japanese girl with me and she was supposed to do the blow job. We rented a Porsche and went out onto the autobahn. But first of all, the Porsche couldn't get it up to 300 km/hour. Only to about 260 or so. And the girl became carsick and couldn't do anything. So, we were just driving.
You filmed it anyway?
Yes, we filmed the whole thing. It was part of an AV I made for Japanese satellite TV.
What are your next plans?
I like AV and want to continue what I'm doing. I'm not interested in TV and movies, I want to make AVs. I don't want to be in a big company and I don't want to turn Hamajim into a big company. I don't want to think about business. I just want to do what I like to do.
- [ 1 ] Unfortunately, this writer has so far never encountered hamedori videos shot by women and showing their perspective.
- [ 2 ] Hayashi soon after broke up with Matsuo and got involved with another AV director in whose films she acted.
- [ 3 ] Junk was the Japanese release title for the American Faces of Death films. The original Faces of Death had only four parts (made from 1978 to 1990, directed by Conan De Cilaire) but in Japan, V&R Planning took over the Japanese name of the series and started to make their own death documentaries under the title Junk. (Actually, the same thing happened in Germany, with a local company continuing the Faces of Death series under the German release title Gesichter des Todes with their own productions.)