One of the strangest weeks I’ve had in Tokyo was spent accompanying some journalists from FHM around the city’s sex clubs. The itinerary took in an S&M hostess bar in Roppongi, a bondage stage show in Shinjuku (complete with audience participation section), and a “happening club” in Shibuya that came with wipe-clean furniture and plentiful supplies of tissues. What should have been sordid turned out to be frightfully ordinary: lots of drab-looking businessmen making fumbling, giggling attempts at degeneracy.
There’s a story in Oniroku Dan’s “Season of Infidelity” that reminded me of this foray into Tokyo’s rather tame underbelly. The narrator of “Deer Park” tries to establish a haven for sexual deviants, modeled on the eponymous mansion built as a seraglio by King Louis XV, a contemporary of the Marquis de Sade. In his call for members, he says that he “wanted to express that hedonism can lead to new growth, new ways of thinking and ideologies.” What he gets is a load of male perverts, all wondering why hardly any women have applied.
Moments like these bring levity to a collection that might otherwise have been easy to dismiss as mere filth. And rest assured: there are some very filthy bits here. Dan is one of the titans of Japanese erotica, a prodigious peddler of “pulp smut” (his words); I tried to count the novels listed on his official website and lost track after passing the 200 mark. His stories teem with graphic descriptions of sex, generally focusing on its more humiliating or perverse aspects: bondage, sadism, incest. If you were to call him a dirty old man, he’d probably agree with you, and readers without the stomach for page upon page of thwacking meat would be advised to take their business elsewhere.
Publisher Vertical Inc describes the stories in “Season of Infidelity,” which was released in Japanese in 1997, as “loosely autobiographical,” and each is narrated in the first person by Dan himself. They find the author in the twilight years of his life, reminiscing fondly about past perversions. The title story charts the disintegration of his marriage in unflinching—and unflattering—detail. (“I look back at that period of my life and can say without exaggerating that I was on the brink of madness,” he admits.) After uncovering an affair that he was having, Dan’s wife promptly begins one of her own—with a colleague of Dan’s whose sexual prowess far exceeds his own.
“Pretty Boy” looks back at an affair that Dan had at college with an up-and-coming kabuki actor, and the final humiliation that was inflicted on his lover. Only the author is now an old man, and the key perpetrator with whom he recalls the incident is dying from cancer, creating an ironic distance that lends the tale an unanticipated poignancy.
Dan’s stories provided ample fodder for Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno film series, which scored the first of many hits with its 1974 adaptation of the writer’s “Hana to Hebi” (Flower and Snake). He would become close friends with the star of that film, Naomi Tani, whom he eulogizes in the final story here, “Bewitching Bloom.”
“She was a porn star, and that was all she ever wanted to be,” he says, making it sound like the highest compliment imaginable. But then, for some people it probably is.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).