A Visit to Kin's Bar -- Tanaka Kinichi's Big Event

I received word of this event almost literally at the last minute. At first I thought I'd have to take a pass. I had no plans to go into Shinjuku on Friday and since I had to be there again on Saturday, I wasn't looking forward to making the additional trip.

But then I reconsidered. Here's what was happening: Renowned bondage photographer Tanaka Kinichi was having the grand opening of his Kin's Bar, a bar that, as far as I know, had been merely a set in one of his photo studios up to this point. On Friday night it would be turned into a real bar and Tanaka was pulling out all the stops to make the event a success.

The part that really sealed the deal for me was that actress, model and performer Saotome Hiromi was going to be there.

Of course, Tanaka would be on hand and there would be the chance to see some of his original, iconic photography and they would be showing pink films from the Shin-Toho library which both Tanaka and Saotome had played a part in: Tanaka as the stills photographer and rigger and Saotome in her role as one of the cute, young actresses who inevitably gets tied up.

So I said what the hell and headed to the station.

I arrived a couple of minutes after the 18:00 start time. The bar is located in a large building which contains all kinds of sets for photography and filmmaking. There are bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, dungeons and, of course, the bar itself.

This is only one of the buildings Tanaka has. I'm not sure if he rents these places only to rent them out himself to photographers and filmmakers, or if he is some sort of real estate tycoon.

The building I went to is known as the Kannon Studio and is in Akebonobashi, just a couple of stops from Shinjuku on the Toei-Shinjuku line. If you've been paying attention, you know that the headquarters of another great SM photographer, Norio Sugiura, is also located in Akebonobashi. I think I could walk between the two places in under 20 minutes. Odd little factoid, that.

The bar is on the B2 level (sub-basement). I didn't go down immediately. I had grabbed my favorite tuna/mayonnaise onigiri and something to drink at a convenience store along the way. Outside the building there was a thoughtfully-placed table and a large ash tray. No place to sit but you can't have everything.

I had left so quickly that I really needed to get some food in my belly before drowning myself in alcohol. One onigiri, some fruit juice and a Mild Seven later and I was on my way down to Tokyo's newest bar.

I was so early there was mostly just staff present when I walked through the door. I saw Mr. Tanaka Kinichi almost immediately and for the first time in the flesh. A few seconds later, who should come over but Saotome Hiromi herself! Now, I had met Ms. Saotome once before but it was years ago. I highly doubt she remembered me.

I took a seat at the bar and Ms. Saotome sat next to me to my left. Mr. Tanaka was to my right and pushed a large photo album over towards me. There was also a copy of his most recent book on the bar.

As I thumbed through both the album and the book, I asked Mr. Tanaka some questions about his photography and history. He pointed to some photos he had taken of Azuma Terumi, an actress who appeared in Wife to Be Sacrificed and later made the transition to television. Mr. Tanaka often took movie stills, mostly for Shin-Toho, I think, but not for films such as Wife to Be Sacrificed, which was a Nikkatsu production.

At the same time, I was sneaking glances over to my left where a projector was showing some old Shin-Toho classic films from the 80s. As mentioned, these films starred Ms. Saotome and Mr. Tanaka had been the stills photographer as well as the bondage rigger. It has only recently come to my attention that Tanaka Kinichi was the rope artist on many such films.

Concurrent with all this was some banter between myself and the bar staff, a couple of really nice guys and a lovely lady. I got the usual questions: Where are you from? How long have you been in Japan? Why is your Japanese shit even after having lived here so long? The usual stuff.

Mr. Tanaka also had a lot of his photos mounted and placed on the walls around the bar. There is truly some iconic photography here. I took some photos of these pictures and, if you've been around the internetz at all, you'll certainly recognize many of these.

Mr. Tanaka, like Mr. Sugiura, has switched over to digital photography but the photos in the album and mounted on the walls were his earlier work, all shot on film.

As for the film I recently blogged about which has become available in the West, SM Hunter, Mr. Tanaka said he performed all the shibari for this movie including the incredible, not to mention dangerous, stunt where Ms. Saotome was bound naked and hoisted high into the air by a crane.

That movie wasn't showing this night but its poster was on the wall just off to the side of the movie screen.

My head started to spin and things suddenly felt surreal. Maybe I had just had too many beers, but I started to feel as if I were dreaming. Many years before, I had been watching films like these -- only thousands of miles from where I was currently perched on a bar stool -- and in a completely different world, a world that may as well have occupied a different universe.

Never could I have imagined that one day I would be sitting between two of the people who had played such important roles in creating these faded yet familiar memories.

This night I saw bits and pieces of at least three films from the Shin-Toho library of the 1980s:

SM Rinko no Omorashi -- SM倫子のおもらし (1986), directed by Kataoka Shuji who also directed SM Hunter.

Sakasa Tsurushi Shibari Nawa -- 逆さ吊し縛り縄 (original title 獄のローパー)(1985), directed by Kataoka Shuji. Possibly the forerunner to SM Hunter 地獄のローパー 緊縛 SM 18才.

Ju-Kan Ookami (about 1985).

It's as I have said before: there are many, many classic films most folks in the West don't even know exist. I'm just finding out about some of these myself. Actually locating them is even harder.

Ms. Saotome was kind enough to write down the kanji for the first two films. She was in her early twenties when she appeared in these movies.

As we were watching one of them, I was curious as to one of the locations. It looked like they had gone out into the woods. Another actress had been tied between a couple of trees with her dress and panties pulled down. I forget what the bad guy was doing. You can probably guess.

It turns out this scene was shot in the middle of Tokyo, in a park in Takadanobaba, just two stops from Shinjuku on the Yamanote Line. In fact, if we had wanted to, we could have hopped in a cab and zipped over there in just a few minutes.

Truly the highlight of the evening was a self-bondage show by Ms. Saotome which she pulled off with aplomb. She was dressed in a slinky, see-through outfit and red high heels. I'm not good at describing outfits but she looked a bit like a harem girl.

She hoisted herself into the air whilst huge red candles dripped wax onto her smooth, beautiful skin. This is one of the shows she has perfected over the years. Another is her seppuku routine which, she told me, she will be performing at the upcoming Sadistic Circus on July 17.

In addition, a surprise guest turned out to be Shima Shikou who took the stage (actually the dungeon located next to the bar) and tied up Ms. Saotome as well.

Shima-san used traditional asanawa instead of the cotton (or synthetic?) rope he usually employs. His style is different -- he tied the ropes around Ms. Saotome's breasts first, then bound her wrists behind her back. But when it was completed, and Ms. Saotome was hanging, rope-gagged and with her ankles tied together and pulled up, it presented a striking image of classical kinbaku. Shima Shikou is a very versatile bondage artist, indeed.

Shima and Saotome also have a long history together. As I recall, they appeared in a Nikkatsu-produced movie around the time of the transition from film to video. In that one, Ms. Saotome and another actress were hung upside down naked and whipped. She also dangled from a bridge out in the mountains. Just thinking about that one still gives me the willies.

So much time had passed and here they were together again simply picking up from where they had left off. Only Shima, the King of SM, dispensed with his usual torture techniques. We were content to see Ms. Saotome hanging in mid-air in an uncomplicated display of beauty in suffering.

This event was like no other I have ever attended. Up to now, at least, I can say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. As interested in the history of kinbaku as I am, this time for me was at once exhilarating and poignant.

It was mind-blowing to have Saotome Hiromi, Tanaka Kinichi and Shima Shikou in one room together. It was also a somewhat unwelcome reminder that none of us stays young forever. But it's what you do with life that counts, and no one has thwarted the years and decades more gracefully than the beautiful and charismatic Saotome Hiromi.

Before leaving, I found Ms. Saotome again and thanked her for her shows and a lovely evening. As we shook hands I was treated one last time to the smile that can launch a thousand ships -- and break a thousand hearts. I gave her a quick hug, a careful hug. I just kind of patted her on the back keeping my chest a few inches away.

My last words to her? "I love you."


UPDATE: It appears that Kin's Bar will be a monthly event. Tanaka Kinichi's website is KT-World. Here is the event page.

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