Lovely Andrea, 1987-2007 — It’s the Hunt, Not the Kill


Time is running out for this film’s run at Documenta in Germany so it was essential to post this fascinating article just as soon as possible. Thanks to Asagi Ageha for penning this wonderful behind-the-scenes look at one documentary filmmaker’s unusual quest — to find photos taken of her in bondage 20 years earlier in Japan. KJ

Hito Steyerl With an impressive body of work to her name, Hito Steyerl is nobody’s fool. The avant-garde feminist filmmaker knows that some things simply can’t be done. So when Hito embarks on an odyssey, she doesn’t fool herself. Not when she sets out in search of a photo of herself in bondage. A photo that was taken 20 years ago when she was a film student in Tokyo. A photo she had never seen herself, with no recollection of who the photographer was, no memory of the studio location or the faintest idea in which magazine the photo eventually appeared, assuming it ever was published.

All this doesn’t daunt Hito. It’s the search that matters, not the find. It’s the effort that counts. This hunt is going to be made into a documentary — a video for Documenta, the mega art event held in Kassel, Germany every five years.

Hito’s starting point is Matthias Grimme, co-owner of Schlagzeilen magazine and Germany’s top address for Japanese bondage. “This could be worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack,” warns Grimme, “but perhaps Osada Steve can help.”

A few e-mails later, Hito arrives in Tokyo where Osada Steve, heir to the Osada Eikichi shibari legacy, has been setting up appointments with people in the shibari/kinbaku industry. The first stop is the granddaddy of Japanese bondage, Nureki Chimuo. Well into his 70s, Nureki is still going strong.

We catch up with him during a photo shoot at Sanwa Shuppan, a major player in SM magazine publishing. It takes awhile before we can talk to him because a young woman is requiring the sensei’s full attention as he continues to put her into ever more lewd poses with his rope. Ever the charmer, he teases Hito: “You are looking for a bondage photo? I can tie you up right here and now. Then you will have a photo.”

Hito politely declines but when shown an old video jacket from the ‘80s, Nureki sensei time travels to what he calls the golden age of kinbaku. “In those days they were still doing good work,” he says. “Nowadays it’s all crap. This video here, I remember it very well. We offered the woman 7,000 yen and started shooting right away. They don’t do movies like that anymore.” Well, it’s hard to disagree because this video from the old days is certainly a classic. But what about Hito’s photo?

Luckily, we are able to talk to Mr. Matsumoto, one of the senior guys at Sanwa Publishing. Matsumoto knows everything about porn, but most of all the type ordinary people would call perverted, or hentai.

“We here who are in the SM publishing industry are actually providing cutting-edge entertainment,” he explains citing Krafft-Ebing and Freud along the way to make his point. “The center of sex is not between the legs but resides between the ears,” he continues, alluding to the brain, seat of the libido.

“By catering to the fantasies of our readers we are constantly pushing the envelope, breaking taboos, opening new possibilities for sexual quality time. And as such, we are making an important contribution to society,” Matsumoto concludes with a satisfied smile.

“About your photo? What a crazy story. Very interesting. Really crazy, I think.” And Matsumoto can’t help but laugh happily because he obviously likes crazy things. “We could search our publications from around 1987,” he offers. “But we don’t archive our magazines here. All our titles are stored at the Porn Library (Fuzoku Toshokan).”

The Fuzoku Toshokan is a members-only library supported by a handful of SM publishers. For them it’s a convenient way to archive their publications, making it a treasure trove for researchers and, in this case, a one-stop shopping point for us to look for Hito’s photo. Naturally, the Porn Library isn’t listed in any directory. In fact, it is housed inside a normal-looking apartment in a residential neighborhood. Matsumoto has assigned the editor of Mania Club magazine, Mr. Endo, to assist us and Endo is already there when we arrive. The room is bulging with rows of bookshelves packed with every issue ever published since the advent of Kitan Club magazine, the legendary forerunner of today’s multi-billion dollar SM porn publishing industry. Titles are conveniently arranged by publisher and publication date.

To the die-hard SM fan, it is like being a kid in a candy store. But this makes it next to impossible to focus only on titles from the 1987-1988 period. Osada Steve seems to have forgotten about the mission at hand, his eyes glued to bondage pics of all genres beckoning to be appraised. Perhaps he felt that, if we weren’t destined to find Hito’s photo anyway, he may as well spend some quality time and write it off as scientific research.

Working through a sizeable stack of really juicy mags of old, turning the pages, I notice his other hand is busy under the desk. But then, suddenly, we are all jolted back to reality by a high-pitched shriek from a few aisles away. “I found it!” Hito comes running. And indeed, inside the January 1988 edition of SM Spirits (now defunct), there is a photo series titled “Lovely Andrea”.

“Oh, I have seen that before,” relates a helpful Endo. “But I think I saw that somewhere else, too.” He disappears but returns a few minutes later with a special edition of SM Sniper where the photos appear again as part of a “Best of the Year” anthology.

Well, would you believe it? Any other mortal would be more than satisfied to have found what, by any stretch of the imagination was impossible to find, and then call it a day. Not so Hito. “Let’s find out who the photographer was. No! Let’s meet him!” she insists.

Huh? That could only mean meeting with the Wailea Publishing people.

The amazing thing about all this is that Hito’s camera never stops rolling. Even during the taxi ride on the way to meet with Watanabe Yasuji, editor-in-chief of SM Sniper magazine. Wailea Publishing occupies a modern skyscraper in the heart of the Kanda district. And as we ride up the elevator to the Sniper floor, Hito quickly changes tapes.

Watanabe and his right-hand man, Igarashi, lead us to the boardroom high above the city and Hito proceeds to explain her odyssey, the documentary, and the lucky find she made.

Watanabe, himself a famous photographer, immediately recognizes from the style of the photos that only Tanaka Kinichi could have taken them. Mr. Igarashi then makes the all-important call to arrange a meeting with Tanaka sensei at his Shinjuku studio. “Would 10 PM tonight be OK?” he enquires politely.

At 10 o’clock sharp we enter Tanaka sensei’s studio. Hito looks a bit different today than she did 20 years ago so Tanaka doesn’t remember working with her. But he immediately recognizes the photos as his own.

“The business has changed a lot over the years,” reminisces Tanaka who began his career shooting stills for Nikkatsu to becoming Wailea Publishing’s main bondage photographer to running Tanaka Studios with video, movie and TV shooting locations all over Tokyo. “Back in the 1980s a lot of young women were tricked into becoming nude models, often expecting to be hired for fashion shoots, but suddenly ending up on SM sets more or less against their will. Many of them were also cheated and never got paid,” Tanaka sensei continues.

Hito Steyerl nods in agreement. “The agent who sent me to this bondage shoot never paid me. He even tried to blackmail me saying if I didn’t continue working for him, he would tell my school.”

After chatting some more and talking about the old days, Hito has everything on tape – 20 years in two days, so to speak. She then hurries back to Berlin, spending the next five months editing the material.

The film can be seen at the main hall at the Documenta in Kassel through September 23.

Asagi Ageha

Documentary by Hito Steyerl, 30 minutes, featuring Nureki Chimuo, Osada Steve, Asagi Ageha.

Showing at the Documenta from June 16 to September 23, 2007.

Special thanks to: Fuzoku Toshokan, Sanwa Shuppan, SM Sniper, Tanaka Kinichi


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  2. Jack,

    Stop shouting, okay? I have sensitive ears 🙂

    As for pics on Ageha’s website, did you read this on TokyoBound or on her site? If you’re referring to her site, I’ll ask her about it next time I see her. Just keep in mind I don’t have any control over what she does or doesn’t do with her own site. I think she’s pretty busy these days performing.

    Happy New Year! — KJ

  3. This is a great story! I don’t imagine the film will make it into the US anytime soon :/

    My thanks go to Ageha for this glimpse of history 🙂

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