I can’t remember precisely when I first stumbled across Gengoroh Tagame’s work, but I still have the striking image by him that I saved while I was in my undergrad of a burly Japanese man, bound in a rope harness and flipped on his back, beside whom a sushi knife stands threateningly embedded into a cutting board. Upon discovering that file, I immediately visited Tagame’s website and remember finding the entire thing absolutely endearing. What I didn’t realize was that Tagame is also a manga artist. And that his sadomasochism could be far more extreme than what he had posted online… So you can imagine my delight upon learning so many years later that Chip Kidd had teamed up with Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins to bring Tagame’s manga to us Anglophones.
The result is The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: a collection of narrative driven, aesthetically pleasing, well crafted porn published in Japan from 2000 to 2010 (including a manga translated into English that was previously published in the Thickness series in 2012). Two brief essays are also included as well as rough sketches and brief commentary by Tagame at the end of each story.
The visual style is what is most striking at first, in particular, the fetishization of the hypermale physique. All the stories revolve around well hung, hirsute, macho confections of square jaws, broad shoulders and glorious bubble butts, rendered with a hand whose masterful skills have clearly been honed by pure lust. It’s largely what has earned Tagame numerous comparisons to Tom of Finland although these comparisons are often quickly followed by comments about how much more animated and fluid Tagame’s art is.
The range of stories included in this collection offer a good representation of Tagame’s story telling skills. While I can’t say that any of them plumb the kind of psychological depth and intimacy possible with the subject matter at hand, he does demonstrate an incredible breadth of emotion and imagination. Some tales like Country Doctor are playful, light hearted and amusing; Exorcism turns to melodrama and historical fantasy; other narratives veer into unadulerated, merciless cruelty. And while sex is the centerpiece of every story – this is pornography afterall – there are stories that are, as Tagame writes, straightforward S&M, and others that are more complex, like Missing, which includes an interesting plot twist and more developed characters.
Would be viewers be warned: all the stories in this anthology feature hardcore gay sex, including scenes with bdsm, torture or rape. Tagame has penned some of the most brutal and vicious representations of CBT you will ever see.* We are talking viscerally painful. Like cringing and giving thanks you weren’t born with a penis as your ovaries try to embed themselves deeper into your body cavity kind of painful.
I have to admit, it was difficult for me to get through some of the stories in this collection. I have a thing for dark, hirsute men built like prize fighters. So while I can appreciate the subversiveness of narratives in which virile alpha-males are subjugated, humiliated and made to take pleasure in it, it was more than a little heartbreaking to imagine my alpha-males being made to suffer. By the hands of someone other than myself, that is.
I’m a little surprized that the reviews I’ve read have not so much as mentioned the recurrance of rape fantasies in this collection even though its introduction opens with the line: “In Gengoroh Tagame’s world, no man is ever penetrated willingly.” As a side note, this is not at all how I read the collection. The sex is undeniably rough in all of the stories but some characters are fully consenting individuals. I suspect the lack of distinguishing between the consensual and non-consensual stories is because what is depicted is so extreme, one cannot fathom how this could bear any relation to actual rape in real life. The narratives exist in a hermetically sealed, testosterone fueled fantasy land. And in Tagame’s world, having a steel catheter inserted into your urethra while someone skewers your glans with sharps and fists you from behind, well that’s exactly what the doctor ordered to get you off.
I bought my copy of The Passion from The Beguiling, which also carries copies of his works in Japanese.
* Unless you spend far too much time online.