I find the cinema just minutes from the busy train station. There’s not a soul in sight, but I am nervous, so I fold my umbrella quickly and creep down the narrow stairs. There is an umbrella stand at the top of the stairs but I can’t risk having it stolen. I like the soiled posters lining the walls, wonderful Japanese erotic noir. I go immediately to the window, where I am greeted by a silver-toothed little man whose boyish grin reminds me somehow of Mickey Rooney. No name-tags in this joint. He is middle-aged. His teeth glisten with silver and gold like the Mexican lady serving my favorite burritos in La Puente. He doesn’t look up. He reaches for my five-thousand yen note with two hands extended. He smiles wildly, perhaps idiotically. He pulls out some bills. “Just one? Is that right?” “Yeah,” I say. His furrowed brow suggests deep thought. He looks at the fiver I have handed to him. He strikes a few buttons on his calculator. Suddenly, he hesitates and then reaches into a little drawer beneath the counter. “It’s 2,000 yen at this time, you know.” “Yes, that’ll be fine.” He opens the plastic pouch to his right, pulls out three one-thousand yen notes, folds them and counts them twice before handing them over. We don’t make eye contact. I thank him in my poor Japanese: “Arigato gozaimasu.” He bows slightly, still grinning from ear to ear.
This is my first trip to a Japanese porno theatre. I am completely and utterly lost. Where am I and what am I doing? I am determined not to let on that I am a novice. It’s strictly soft-core, because it doesn’t show genitals; the sex is simulated, the actors clothed and the sex acts hidden. Lots of aggressive men forcing themselves on squealing women. The movies are forgettable and boring. Little to attract one’s attention. They run without interruption. The women are in kimono. They are not young. Neither are the men. It is soft porn, no privates revealed. Close contact ensures the illusion. The women are taken by force. The men are overcome. They can’t help themselves. The women, shocked, let out distressed squeals, yelps, cries, but no crying. They don’t fight it. Their faces are shown instead of their genitals, male and female. There is agony and ecstasy. It has to be done, it has to be endured. This is the Japanese creed. These films, I see, are metaphysical. They illustrate Japanese thought, they affirm a world view, an ideology of stress, a recognition of the need for relief, the denial of love, the affirmation of the inevitable loneliness. Sex is not a life force, but a premonition of death.
Shall I describe the seedy theatre? The heavy plastic curtain, the blackened glass ticket booth, the titty posters? And then, once in the auditorium, rows of reclining, over-sized chairs without armrests, guys standing about, at all four corners of the room, and the odd customers, the salarymen, who enter in their suit and ties, carrying briefcases and wearing glasses: Japanese Clark Kents, each and every one of them. They enter and sit and then are approached, as a sparrow might alight on the hindquarters of a fallen buffalo. They become couples instantly. They sit silently. Eventually there is whispering, inaudible, a negotiation, and then if the little bird is lucky some sort of invitation: for a HJ, a BJ, caresses, full contact? How is this negotiated?
What is fascinating is the odd group of regulars, mainly over fifty, I’d say, who position themselves around the room, pressed against the walls but positioned carefully to keep track of the newcomers as they enter in the dark. These guys pop in, sit, pretend to sleep, slumped down in their chairs, as on a recliner at home, and seem indifferent to the presence of one of the regulars who then proceeds to undo his trousers. The stuffed chairs are lined up, no space between, soft, relaxing, like a continuous sofa as long as the theatre is wide. You’ve got action galore, discrete and nearly silent. The young and not-so lean back, pants open or down to their ankles: hand jobs and more, a quiet sort of sex mania.
There’s a marvelous sort of Fellini-esque madness on display, but instead of fat women with baggy eyes and broken teeth, you have Japanese men in their fifties, old queens offering contact. The seediness and desperation reminds me of Almodóvar, perhaps, or of Fassbinder. It’s the harsh reality of urban life, once on display in Times Square in New York, or Hollywood Boulevard before they tidied the place up; back in the 70s, when there were numerous used bookstores on the Boulevard and old women wore hot pants and crimson lipstick to the grocery.
Not rough, but seedy. Seedy is marvelously un-Japanese. Japan is one extensive Century City, nearly bloodless. Some would say, soulless. Seedy is the key. Seedy is life. It exists in a kind of prettified world of gentrified lifestyle acceptance, but suddenly it’s a world not of enlightened freedom but of repressed obscenity, a hidden world of escape. I like rituals. The ritual is this: one enters, surveys, and sits. The spotters check the merch and pounce, standing nearby, behind or next to the newly arrived. Either they and their services are accepted or rejected. They are welcomed or invited, one might say, or they are sent packing. This is done nearly in silence. I certainly hear nothing, perhaps light lip smacking. Once accepted, the stalker sits close and begins his ministrations. There are clothes to be removed; some stand and strip themselves, right in the middle of the auditorium. It is shocking to see such brazen acts. Then the action begins, but discretely and quietly; there is completion, followed by a possible nap; finally, one departs, while the other stays, readying himself for the next guest.
The slacks are lowered. All in the dark the chairs recline; a shirt is removed and folded – never tossed – and set to the side. Sounds of lip smacking, sucking, suckling, kissing in the dark. Eventually, the process is reversed and the customer, now dressed, stands to leave. This is no money exchanged, as far as I can see.
One fellow, however, can’t bring himself to regroup. His affectionate visitor has moved on, but he sits in his shirt and socks, playing with himself. He is alone now. His glasses are back on. He is half way but can’t seem to dress. He pulls at himself. It is among the saddest sites I’ve ever seen. I am not in the least turned on by this sight. But I feel drawn to his forlorn state. Could anybody offer solace? I can do nothing. Nobody can. Curiously, I notice he looks down as he pleasures himself. What is there to see? The downcast face makes it all the more pathetic.
As I witnessed up-close, one visitor sits and is almost immediately joined by a stalker. There is silence. Stillness. The visitor moves away. Just one seat. Gradually but eventually the stalker leaves, however reluctantly. Now a sparrow appears. There is eye contact, an invitation. The second stalker sits; he is not shooed away. The visitor’s fly is lowered. He reaches further. What a job, down and about. Deep and then to the hilt, but then discouraged, drawn away, “pulled” away to join at the lips so soon. Great action, great rapport, great fitting, great urgency, passion even, arms about, an embrace, melding and connection. That was the high point, a sighing cheer, a moment of quickening, joy. And he had so much hoped to hold it forever there. And then it was hot, sweaty, humid, and even sticky.
I depart for some fresh air. When I return, a fellow sits directly in front of me. He looks back. A sparrow (vulture?) descends. The newly arrived scoots over. This is no doubt a rejection. The bird flies off. He is alone now, in the row in front but to my left. He looks back again and sort of winks. That low-slung position becomes uncomfortable. He has his pants open. I lower his fly. I don’t feel like working, so I just rest my hand there alongside it. I finger his silky hair. I fiddle. But I am bored. I am tired. Can’t I just let my hand rest here for a while, I wonder, just nestle. What a cozy place to be, I think. And he is content.
It is hard being next to someone without going after them or being gone after, probed, poked, and urged on. Sometimes it is nicer to find someone who will let you do nothing.
What’s erotic about sitting next to a stranger with your hand down his pants? Men are very soft down there. All of them and that’s comforting to know. All that oily muscle power and then quite suddenly the grassy patch leads to a bunny rabbit. The softness in women simply deepens, but with men a secret is revealed, their womanly side is exposed in their male parts. They’re vulnerable down there. He opens my fly. A warm wet engulfing is felt, like a towel. I am unresponsive but curious to see where this is going. The answer comes quickly as I am surprised by his warm tongue, generously perfumed. It is like a warm tootsie roll pop, not hard, not sticky, but soft. His face has a five o’clock shadow and that adds to the effect. It’s a man’s face.
That kiss so soon. Licking, sucking, slurping, plunging, absorbed. That odor. His? Mine? The wetness, too close. All of it, and from a stranger. Who is this? Do I want to know? “Oh,” he moans. Does he? We met 10 minutes ago. I stop to catch my breath. “Nice to meet you.” Time to think. Evaluate. “I love you.” He must be mad. “It’s hot,” I answer. Too close for too long. What the fuck have I gotten myself into? Now I am really lost and at a loss. “I love you.” He must be out of his mind.
After a rather substantial sampling of what he had to offer, I say, “hajime mashite” —he laughs. He offers his name. I, mine. No fake names. He gives me his business cared. I have none to offer. I tell him it is hot. “Atsui, desu ne?” He laughs again. “I‘ve gotta go.” “Ok, ok.” I go. He doesn’t follow. It is raining. There is local flooding reported in the news. A dam has broken in the hills. Dead bodies have been found floating in the local creeks. Helicopters arrive to rescue a desperate family. I run to the train station. I look down to find that I’ve forgotten to zip my trousers. The Shinjuku line takes me where I want to go. I am happy to be dry.
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