NuitdeTokyo reports on the latest Sugiura Norio (杉浦則夫) photo shoot.
In Japan, pawn shops are known as ‘shichiya‘ (質屋). Due to kanji homonyms, however, the word can also be read as ‘7-8′. Predictably enough, ‘going to the 7-8′ was once upon a time slang for going to the pawn broker.
Given that pawn shops are typically a refuge to an array of wealth and treasures, they used to be built around a robust ‘kura‘ (倉), a large concrete vault that not only discouraged burglary but was also resistant to earthquakes and fire.
Unsurprisingly, some of these pawn shops of old are still upright today. One such shichiya, not far from the Tokyo Dome/Big Egg baseball palace and the Korakuen amusement park, is today a functioning studio for TV and movie productions. And it is exactly here where, one snowy morning, we were all to gather: Master kinbaku (緊縛) photographer Sugiura Norio (杉浦則夫), three of his assistants (including his two sons), a rope worker (縄師) going by the name Osada Steve (長田スティーブ), the model of the day, the incomparable Asagi Ageha (浅葱アゲハ), one make-up artist and yours truly.
Now, did I mention that snow was lining the streets and that, more pertinently, pawn shops from yesteryear don’t exactly have central heating? As a result, whenever there was a break of some kind everybody would swiftly huddle together around the only kerosene stove in the house.
In spite of (or perhaps due to) its lack of modern amenities, the location is still popular with those putting together kinbaku productions and can be rented for roughly $1,500/day. Indeed, the late Akechi Denki (明智伝鬼) had a certain fondness for the place and even held one of his birthday bashes there.
Sugiura Norio is quite the traditionalist. As such, he prefers old sets, abandoned warehouses, and women in distress for his photos. Sugiura sensei is also a ‘have a beam, will travel’ kind of guy. In other words, the maestro always comes with his own hashira (柱) which affords higher flexibility in shooting angles.
After everything had been set up, it was time for the first shoot. I am not quite sure how Sugiura sensei might have couched it, but for the time being let’s call the scene ‘rich merchant’s daughter in distress’. The young daughter is, of course, Asagi Ageha, attired in a black dress and black stockings. And, on this occasion, the purveyor of this distress is none other than Osada Steve . . . with his rope doing most of the distressing (see photos below).
As the scene progressed, the black stockings would soon give way to nature and to the virgin daughter’s alabaster-colored thighs and bare ass. To give the well-heeled bitch a flavor of the strictness to come, Osada Steve then started to entwine bamboo into the shibari (縛り), forcing her into ever lewder positions. Increasingly and after the first rope had woven its way around the merchant’s daughter’s pert breasts, Osada Steve was no longer himself: In his mind, he had morphed into some kind of laborer on the master’s estate from a century earlier – perhaps the gardener or security guard, someone who had had his eye on the master’s daughter for a long time only for the opportunity to now finally present itself . . .
Rope fans familiar with the Sugiura style know all too well that sensei sets great store by his models’ facial expressions – typically, a kind of anguished, tormented look, to be precise. Of course, with snow littering the roof and with the nearest stove three rooms away, the ‘natural’ expression would be ‘give me warmth and shelter, and I’ll let you torment me some more’. So, it would be poor form indeed not to commend Asagi Ageha very highly for looking warm, sweet, and sexy rather than half-frozen to death.
Another critical component of the Sugiura style is the sensei’s predilection for working quickly. (Read: very quickly.) This places a fair amount of pressure on his assistants and a ton of pressure on the bakushi (縛師). And, given that I was Osada Steve’s personal assistant on that fateful day, my fingers had plenty of pressure to contend with, too, since I was the one who had to coil the rope. I had thought I could coil more quickly than Osada Steve could tie. But at the shichiya shibari shoot with Sugiura Norio I realized that nobody in the world could coil rope quickly enough when these two guys cranked up the gears and were in the ‘zone’.
You need to keep your nerve when coiling rope barefoot on icy tatami mats for twelve hours on end. But, thanks to my many years of zen training, I could steel myself for just such a challenge.
After a morning of photos in the cold and a (very) quick lunch, we moved to the second floor. More tatami rooms this time, but with daylight pouring in through the windows. This being Tokyo, most buildings are in very close proximity to one another, so the occupants of the house next door were the unwitting beneficiaries of a free rope show in the middle of the afternoon.
As Japan is a boundless source of science know-how, we were actually to learn a new trick right off the bat. In traditional Japanese homes, the manner in which a wall is decorated is frequently split into two, with the painted area typically rising from the ground up to a height of around 1.80 meters (6 feet or 6 shaku/尺), with wood then ousting paint beyond that height. The demarcation point is a wooden plank that has a groove in it into which hooks for displaying paintings may be secured, as in any art gallery.
We exploited this groove not to hang works of art on, but to secure the naked Ageha to, enveloped as she was by rope. So, with Ageha on the ground tied into a strict agura shibari (胡座縛り) – in hojojutsu (捕縄術) parlance, this bondage is also called ebi shibari (海老縛り) – I wound up holding half a dozen or more ropes linked to various parts of her body and guided through the various hooks attached to the upper rim of the alcove. This is easier said than done, especially given the slippery nature of the hooks and the limited number of fingers on a human hand. Fortunately, an executive from a major kinbaku publisher dropped by and volunteered to help. You could tell that it wasn’t his first winter shoot because he was sporting fur-lined socks!
Still, Sugiura sensei felt that something was missing. So, Asagi Ageha was first gagged with a tenugui (手拭い). Then, for maximum effect, her private parts were clamped and pulled into various painful directions by an assortment of little chains. The cloth gag soon caused a constant stream of dribble from Ageha’s mouth, and as the pain from the clamps increased you could soon hear her muffled moans as tears streamed down her lovely cheeks. It’s just too bad that photos can’t capture acoustics. That said since the entire shoot was equally committed to video, then a good deal of yelping will have actually made it to tape . . . soon to be enjoyed (I am sure) on Sugiura Norio’s website.
With this relatively comfortable scene in the can, it was now time for suspension progressions back in the kura. The first of this series started out with Osada Steve’s patent-pending futomomo-zuri (太腿吊り). It was during these suspensions that Asagi Ageha truly showed her mettle as she was driven to the edge of physical endurance and abuse.
After about an hour of non-stop air time, Osada Steve finally opted to have Ageha taken down so as to grant her some rest time. Astutely, however, Sugiura sensei remarked that, in general, Steve was too soft, far too gentle – in particular with Asagi Ageha. I just kept quiet, coiling ropes in the background.
Lights then went down for the final scene with only white candles flickering away in the dimness . . . as they went on to drip their hot wax onto Asagi Ageha whilst she was held firmly in position by bamboo rods at the request of the publishing house executive. (I would have no qualms taking that job!)
Come 9pm, we had been at it for 12 hours and Asagi Ageha had spent most of that time tied up and naked in frost-bitten temperatures. When I enquired how she felt, she said: “It was tough, but not as tough as I thought it would be.”
To enjoy more photos of this shoot and many others, visit http://www.sugiuranorio.jp/