Nikkatsu and Roman Porno
In the late 1960s, the pink film, or adult film market in Japan was largely the realm of low-budget independent companies. With their audience being lost to television and the importation of American films, Nikkatsu, Japan’s major film studios were struggling for survival. Seeking to attract a new audience, Toei entered the sexploitation market in 1971 with its “Pinky Violence” series. Takashi Itamochi, president of Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest major film studio, made the decision to put the company’s high production values and professional talent into the adult, or pink film industry as a way of attracting a new audience. When Nikkatsu launched its Roman Porno series in November 1971 with the Apartment Wife series, these often well-made and artistic softcore pornographic films proved popular with both the public and the critics. This introduction of pornography into mainstream Japanese movie theaters has been credited with saving Nikkatsu from collapse at that time. Nikkatsu produced nothing but Roman Porno films for the next 17 years, releasing an average of three such films a month.
Other large studios such as Shintoho and Million Films would follow Nikkatsu into the big-budget pink film, but Nikkatsu remained the dominant producer of high-production theatrical pornography in Japan. By the end of the 1970s, Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno together with pink films by other companies made up over 70% of the domestic Japanese film market.
Background to AVs of the 1980s
Ownership of VCRs first became widespread in Japan in the early 1980s, and this was the dawn of the Japanese AV (Adult Video) industry. Immediately after their debut, these adult videos proved successful with the public. The AVs provided privacy and comfort that the older, established theatrical pornography market could not. Also, Patrick Macias points out that AVs were better able to focus on niche-interests, and provided the convenience of the fast-forward button. The 1980s thus became a struggle for the attention of the pornography audience in Japan between the AV industry and the producers of theatrical pornography, the largest of which was the Nikkatsu studio. Due to changing audience loyalties and increased government restrictions on theatrical films, by the end of the decade the AV industry had emerged as the leader of the pornographic marketplace in Japan.
AV’s competition with Nikkatsu
When ownership VCRs first became widespread in the early 1980s, the AVs made their appearance and quickly became highly popular. As soon as 1982 the AVs had already attained an approximately equal share of the adult entertainment market with theatrical erotic films. As in the late 1960s, Nikkatsu had again found itself losing its audience, this time to the new AV market. Faced with this new competition over the cinematic adult entertinment audience, Nikkatsu focused on continued production of its S&M films, which had been their most popular product. In 1984, new government policies and an agreement between Eirin (the Japanese film-rating board) and the pink film companies put drastic new restrictions on theatrical films. Theatrical pink film profits dropped 36% within a month of the new ruling. The studio at first tried to circumvent the new theatrical rules and to compete directly with the AVs by entering their own turf. To launch the company’s new “Harder Than Pink” AV series, Nikkatsu wanted Masaru Konuma, director of the highly popular and critically praised 1974 Roman Porno Wife to be Sacrificed, to make a hard-core version of his script Woman in the Box (箱の中の女 – Hako No Naka No Onna) in 1985. Konuma was at first reluctant, but Nikkatsu was able to persuade him to make the video by agreeing to allow Konuma to direct his original (and, according to the Weissers, artistically superior) version of this script for theatrical release the following year. However, Nikkatsu soon ceased production of this video series when it proved unsuccessful with the public.
The studio next tried to tempt audiences back to the theater with higher-caliber pink films, beginning with the Flower and Snake (Hana To Hebi) series (1985–1987), based on its 1974 Roman Porno S/M hit Flower and Snake, starring Naomi Tani. When this failed, they hired AV queen Hitomi Kobayashi (debut 1986 – see list below) to star in her own theatrical film series in 1987, but these films were judged as little more than AVs on film, and were not popular.
Nikkatsu’s loss to the AV industry
After all these strategies by Nikkatsu proved unsuccessful, Eirin dealt the final blow by introducing stricter requirements for sex-related theatrical films. The company was finally forced to concede defeat to the AV industry, and closed its production facilities in April 1988. Bed Partner (1988) was the final film of the venerable 17-year-old Roman Porno series. Nikkatsu continued to distribute films under the name Ropponica, and theatrical pornography through Excess Films, however these were not nearly as popular or critically respected as the Roman Porno series had been in its heyday. By the end of the 1980s, the AV had become established as the main form of adult cinematic entertainment in Japan.
After starring in Japan’s first theatrically released hardcore film, director Tetsuji Takechi’s Daydream (1981), Kyoko Aizome made her AV debut in November 1981, making her one of Japan’s earliest AV idols.
The early adult video, Ken-chan, the Laundry Man (洗濯屋ケンちゃん – Sentakuya Kenchan), became a hit in Japan in 1982, selling over 200,000 copies, an unprecedented number for an adult video. The popularity of this VHS-format video has been said to have increased the sales of video recorders at this time. The popularity of this early video led to its release in the United States by the Orchid International company in 1984.
Early AV performers were often struggling actresses who could not find work in the theatrical Roman Porno films and girls from the soaplands. 1982 saw the debut of one of the earliest prominent AV actresses, Kate Asabuki, whose name would appear on the titles of both AVs and theatrical films. She would go on to serve as a co-host of the weekly television show Tokyo Rock TV.
Satomi Shinozaki, who debuted on AV in 1983, had a career in theatrical films for another 20 years, directing a film in 2001. Another 1983 debut, Kyouko Hashimoto, would graduate from AVs to a successful theatrical film career, appearing in over 100 films, including Kei Mizutani’s breakthrough film Weather Woman (1996)
-Hashimoto Kyouko (橋本杏子) Debut: 1983; Born: 1964?/2/15 Saitama Prefecture.
-Satomi Shinozaki (しのざきさとみ) aka Aya Misawa, (三井綾子他) Debut: 1983; Born: 1963/1/18.
Yumiko Kumashiro, who debuted in 1984, later starred in a series of theatrical films for Nikkatsu under her stage-name, Eve. She went on to a successful career as a striptease dancer, and starred in films for Shintoho studio in the 1990s.
Also during this year, Wonder Kids studio released the first completely pornographic animated film, Lolita Anime, founding the hentai genre. It was an immediate success and Nikkatsu quickly jumped on the trend and released their own direct-to-video animated porno under the same title with recognizably similar characters.
-Yumiko Kumashiro (神代弓子) aka Eve (イヴ) Debut: 1984 (Eve Debut: 2004); Born: 1965/11/22
Eri Kikuchi was an early AV actress to capitalize on her large bust, a metric E-cup. Though she had made underground tapes previously, her official AV debut was in September 1985. She appeared in AVs, magazines and theatrical films such as Shintoho’s 1986 Eri Kikuchi – Big Breasts (菊池エリ 巨乳 – Kikuchi Eri Kyonyu). In 2003 she was a lecturer/demonstrator for classes at the AV Cultures School, a school for aspiring AV directors, and in 2007, 23 years after her AV Debut, she was still releasing AVs.
1986 was a turning-point year for the AV industry due to two actresses who debuted this year. Hitomi Kobayashi and Kaoru Kuroki became major AV stars who would shape the future of the AV market.
Hitomi Kobayashi’s career in the AV field would last for over a decade and a half, earning her the title “Japan’s Queen of Adult Video.” Her 39 AVs sold over 600,000 copies, earning about 6 billion yen. According to the adult entertainment editor for Shukan Shincho, “She laid the foundations for the golden age of adult video.”
Kaoru Kuroki, has been called “the first high-profile AV actress.” After becoming a popular star of pornographic videos, she was seen on late-night television, then on daytime talk shows and in national advertising campaigns. She became admired by women for her outspoken but polite and frank discussions of sex, and for expressing “feminist” views on television. According to Rosemary Iwamura, she changed the image of the AV actress. “…she didn’t seem to be making videos because of a lack of options but rather as an informed choice.” Kuroki’s director at Crystal-Eizou, Toru Muranishi, became known as an industry innovator who helped create the documentary-style format which would become a trademark of Japanese AVs.
In an attempt to compete with the AV industry, Nikkatsu hired AV queen Hitomi Kobayashi, who had debuted the previous year, to star in her own theatrical film series in 1987. These films were not popular with AV fans, who preferred the privacy the AV offered, or with movie-goers, who judged them as little more than AVs on film.
Nao Saejima, who debuted in 1987, would star in self-titled theatrical releases for Nikkatsu, the pink film, Abnormal Excitement: Nao Saejima (1989), and the mainstream Meet Me In the Dream: Wonderland (1996) A 2006 article reported that Saejima was then working as an artist.
Prolific pink film actor Yutaka Ikejima entered the directing profession in 1988 through the AV medium. He would eventually move into directing theatrical pink films in 1991, earning several awards at the Pink Grand Prix through the years for his contributions to that genre.
Nikkatsu ended its 17-year theatrical Roman Porno series in 1988, conceding defeat to the AV market.
Diamond Visual, which would become the largest AV company for a while, was founded in September 1988 by Toru Muranishi. Muranishi had worked at Crystal-Eizou when Kaoru Kuroki made her debut there in 1986. Sharing his vision of documentary-style AVs, Kuroki followed Muranishi to his new company.
1988 debut, Keiko Murakami would star in the Apartment Wife film, 団地妻 不倫丸見え (1991, Excess)
1988 debut, Rena Murakami produced a self-titled movie under her own production unit (Rena Films), under Excess in 1997.
-Keiko Murakami (村上慶子) Debut: 1988; Born 1971/10/25.
Yumika Hayashi, who would earn the title of “Japan’s Original Adult Video Queen” during a 16-year career, debuted in 1989. She would star in almost 200 AVs and 180 pink films in her career. A documentary on her life was filmed in 1997, and she was awarded Best Actress at the Pink Grand Prix awards in 2005. Her death in 2005 ended one of the longest careers in the field. and made front-page news in Tokyo.
Busty model/actress Kimiko Matsuzaka’s February 1, 1989 AV debut with the Diamond Image company became a huge hit, setting off a “Big Bust Boom” (巨乳ブーム Kyonyu Buumu?) in the AV industry.
-Megu Goto (五島めぐ) Debut: 1989; Born: 1970/10/20 Tokyo.
-Shiina Itou (いとうしいな) aka (椎名かほり), (柏木ゆかり) Debut: 1989; Born: 1970/10/6 Tokyo.
-Natsuko Kayama (加山なつこ); Debut: August, 1989; Born: 1970/12/23 Tokyo.
AVs in the 1990s
The 1990s opened with the government lifting its 40-year ban on pubic hair in print. According to the Weissers, “by mid-1991, full frontal nudity became commonplace in Japanese magazines and books.” The restriction on pubic hair in film and video had been relaxed for imported films, but remained in place for domestic films and AVs until the middle of the decade.
The “Big Bust Boom” (巨乳ブーム Kyonyu Buumu?) which became a significant genre of the AV market with Kimiko Matsuzaka’s debut early the previous year, continued in 1990. Matsuzaka would appear in her last AV in October 1990, and retire from public life in 1991. Among the leading busty models who debuted this year was Kuwata Kei, whose 113 cm bust measurement was the first in the AV industry to surpass Matsuzaka’s advertised 110.7-centimeter metric G-cup. Though never as popular as Matsuzaka, Kuwata’s career would last until at least 1998.
-Kei Kuwata (桑田ケイ) Debut: 1990, Born: 1971/8/28 Tokyo; Debut: 1990.
Kimiko Matsuzaka’s sudden retirement from public life in the spring of 1991 came as a shock to the AV industry. Director Toru Muranishi called Matsuzaka’s October 1990 departure from AVs one of the worst stories of the year for the AV industry. Muranishi’s company, Diamond Visual, for which Matsuzaka worked, would go from the largest AV producing company to declaring bankruptcy within a year of her retirement.
Actress Rie Miyazawa’s shashinshuu (photo book) Santa Fe, released in November 1991, was one of the first photo books to take advantage of the lifting of the long-standing ban on the showing of pubic hair. Revealing a little hair in one picture, the book became a national phenomenon, selling 1.5 million copies. “Hea nuudo” (or “Hair nudes”) in photography became commonplace, but the ban remained in place for AVs.
The major film studio, Shintoho entered the AV (adult video) market in 1992 with its “Hard Porno” series. This was a line of video-releases of older Koji Wakamatsu-produced S&M films. The series opened with the Shinya Yamamoto-directed Naomi Tani film Cruelty of the Female Inquisition (1975). Wakamatsu’s own Torture Chronicles were released to video in this series. In the wake of the preceding year’s “hair nude” photo by Rie Miyazawa, other celebrities appear in photos displaying pubic hair, including Yoko Shimada and Keiko Oginome. Diamond Visual, the largest AV production company at the time, declared bankruptcy in February, 1992, creating concerns that the survival of the AV industry could be in danger.
In December 1995, Ganari Takahashi founded the AV company Soft On Demand, which would become the largest independent adult video company in Japan and notable for its creative approach to adult videos.
Until the mid-1990s, AV actress were almost exclusively models in their late teens or early 20s at the time of their debuts. However, at this time, “mature women” models in AVs became increasingly popular. While youthful debuts would still remain the norm, this broadening in tastes would pave the way for the debuts of future “mature” AV stars like Aki Tomosaki in 2000, and Maki Tomoda in 2006, both of whom had reached their 30th birthdays at the time of their debuts.
Ruka Aida was one of the most popular 1995 AV debuts, and became known for refusing to allow her male partners to wear condoms in spite of industry concerns over AIDS. After retiring from AV appearances, she would work as a masseuse at a “soapland” in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district, and then, in 2004, open her own bar in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.
In one of the longer and more prolific AV actress careers, Aika Miura averaged one film a month over a seven year period, She starred in the theatrically released, widescreen film Aika Miura – Streetcar Ecstasy in 2001, and retired in 2002, seven years after her AV debut.
Kei Mizutanis debut in Weather Girl was one of the surprise successes in Japanese cinema of the 1990s. Released to video in 1995, the film quickly developed a cult-following. The video won the Oslo and the Stockholm International Film Festivals in 1996, causing the video producer to take the unprecedented step of pulling the video from the market to release it theatrically in Japan. It went on to box-office success, and topped several critics’ Top Ten lists for the year. The Weissers call it, “a brilliant film, worthy of all the praise it received from some traditionally conservative reviewers, constantly flirting with bad taste while managing to stay fresh and innocent,” and point out that the film, “dramatically illustrates the enormous cultural differences between Japanese and American sensibilities.” Mizutani would go on to a prolific career and international popularity.
-Ruka Aida (愛田るか) Debut: 1995, Born: 1971/9/4 Kanagawa.
Miki Sawaguchi was one of the more prominent actresses to debut in 1996. Through appearances in magazine photo layouts, gravure books, AV videos, on TV, on radio and even singing on CDs, this busty AV actress became a multi-media star.
A December 2005 news article claimed that 1996 AV debut, Yuri Komuro was “one of the brightest stars in the adult video firmament,” and reported that she had begun working as an author after her 1999 retirement. At the height of her popularity, Komuro participated in developing a perfume from the odor that had built up in a pair of panties she had worn for several days. The perfume was named “Asoko” (literally, “That place”), a word used as a euphemism for the genitals by the Japanese.
A 2006 article reported that 1997 debut, Sally Yoshino, was then working as a striptease dancer.
-Manami Yoshii aka Shoko Mizusawa
1999 debut, Mami Aizawa was called “one of the hottest commodities in the Japanese adult video world” in a 2003 article. She had reportedly preserved her virginity until her third AV appearance since her first required only modeling, and the second displayed her manual skills on her male counterpart.
In October 2006, seven years after her 1999 debut, AV star Minori Aoi appeared in a controversial promotional campaign for the 2nd International Healthy City Conference in the People’s Republic of China.
-Mami Aizawa (相沢まみ) Debut 1999, Born: 1980/06/15 Tokyo.
Anna Ohura became one of the leading big-bust performers in the AV industry, developing an international following. At one point she claimed to have the largest breasts in the Japanese adult film industry.
2000 debut Emily Yoshikawa would become a leading AV actress, and make news in the entertainment field with her retirement from the screen to work in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara “soapland” district in 2004.
Nao Oikawa became romantically involved with popular comedian Jinnai Tomonori, and retired from the AV industry in 2004. She followed her AV career with appearances on TV variety shows.
Busty, mature actress, Aki Tomozaki’s AV debut in 2000, at the age of 30, initiated a career of over 250 appearances. Her attractively motherly appearance and large breasts gave her a leading role opposite younger actors in many AVs with an incest theme.
-Nao Oikawa (及川奈央 / おいかわなお) Debut: 2000, Retired: 2004; Born: 1981/04/21 Saitama
-Emily Yoshikawa (吉川エミリー) Debut: 2000; Retired: 2004; Born 1980/6/3 Dominican Republic.
Ai Kurosawa became a popular and prolific AV actress, winning the “Main AV Actress Award” at Takeshi Kitano’s second Entertainment Awards ceremony.
Hitomi Hayasaka, who had planned on majoring in motel management before her AV debut, became one of the more prolific AV performers, making over 120 appearances and still appearing in AVs five years after her debut in the industry.
Nozomi Momoi, was one of the more prominent and promising AV debuts of the year, appearing in over 100 AVs within a year of her 2001 debut, However her career would be cut short in October 2002 in a murder-suicide that shocked the nation.
Erika Nagai cultivated the image of a martial arts expert in her AVs, and became a favorite of followers of the “strong-woman” genre which became popular in the 2000s.
A March 2002 Shukan Bunshun article reported that AV actress Yumika Hayashi, who had made her debut in 1989, participated in a symposium and showing of pornographic films in the Shibuya district targeted for women.
According to a 2003 article, gravure idol Maria Takagi, who made her AV debut in 2002, was then the highest-paid AV actress in Japan. She was paid 300 million yen to perform in 30 films. Called the “Aya Matsuura of porn,” she made her acting debut in the 2003 Fuji Television dramatic series, Anata no Tonari no Dareka Iru.. She retired in 2004 and has appeared in many TV dramas since then. Her other acting appearances include a role in the 2005 horror-comedy, Tokyo Zombie.
Shinji Kubo, a male AV actor who had appeared in over 800 videos, opened the AV Cultures School on May 25, 2003. Established to help aspiring AV directors, actress Eri Kikuchi, who made her AV debut in 1984, was one of the first instructors at this school.
Hitomi Kobayashi, who had debuted in 1986 and was called Japan’s Queen of Adult Video, announced her retirement with a final, big-budget AV. The widely advertised project was announced for investors in July 2003. Investors in the video would later complain of unethical financial practises.
With no previous film-acting experience, Emi Kuroda, an AV veteran of some 200 videos, was chosen to star in pink film director Mitsuru Meike’s Horny Home Tutor: Teacher’s Love Juice (発情家庭教師 先生の愛汁 Hatsujō katei kyōshi: sensei no aijuru?) (2003). Re-released as The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, the film became a surprise cult hit, playing at 20 international film festivals.
Minami Aoyama made her AV debut and pink film debut both in 2003. She would win the Best Actress award at the 2006 Pink Grand Prix.
AV star, Emily Yoshikawa, who had debut in 2000, announced her retirement from the screen in 2004. Her decision to work in Tokyo’s red-light Yoshiwara district became a major news item in adult entertainment. Cost for a session with Yoshikawa started at 70,000 yen, which would pay for a trip to Hong Kong and back. Nevertheless, within days of the announcement, Yoshikawa’s waiting list was booked three months in advance.
Financial controversy following the release of Hitomi Kobayashi’s final AV in December 2003, A March 2004 article reported that Kobayashi, who had debuted in 1986, was then working as a hostess at a nightclub in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. Her husband, the former president of her talent agency, was working as her driver.
Also in Roppongi, the doors to the bar, “Ruka,” opened in June 2004. This establishment was named after its owner, the retired AV star Ruka Aida, who had made her AV debut in 1995.
Hotaru Akane, who debuted in 2004, was named “Newcomer of the Year” in Weekly Playboy ‘s 2005 “AV Academy Awards”. Her particular talent with female ejaculation earned her the title “Shiofuki Queen”.
Yumika Hayashi’s death after celebrating her 35th birthday in June 2005 ended one of the longest careers in the AV field. Debuting in 1989, by the time of her death, she had become known as “Japan’s Original Adult Video Queen.” Her 16-year career included appearances in over 400 videos and films, including a documentary on herself.
A December 2005 Asahi Geino article reported on the current careers of several prominent former AV actresses. Yuri Komuro was working as an author, Nao Saejima was working as an artist. Ruka Aida was still operating her self-named bar in Roppongi, which she had opened the previous year. Sally Yoshino had returned to her favorite form of adult entertainment, performing as a striptease dancer. Hitomi Hasegawa was planning and appearing in “sexy events” as an “erotic missionary.”
-Airi & Meiri (Twins)
Adult video conglomerate Soft On Demand and tabloid paper Tokyo Sports inaugurated the AV Open contest for most sales with eighteen AV companies submitting entries.
-Rin Aoki was a gravure idol before moving to AV in 2006.
-Miho Maeshima appeared as an actress on television before embarking on an AV career in 2006.
-Meisa Hanai debuted in November
The AV Grand Prix ceremony succeeded the AV Open. Human Terrible Wrapper (人間酷包 Ningenkokuhō?), starring 2002 “mature woman” debut Maki Tomoda, won “Best SM Video”.
-Hitomi Tanaka was a gravure idol before she debuted as an AV actress in November
-Yui Tatsumi was a race queen before her January AV debut
Busty gravure idol Fuko made her AV debut on February 1, 2009.