Dan (real name, Yoshihiko Kuroiwa) didn’t just write S&M. He practically made it into a one-dirty-old-man cottage industry. He wrote over a hundred novels that were probably sold in several forest’s worth of plain brown wrappers, and penned dozens of scenarios for films whose posters you wouldn’t want hanging in your living room when your parents came over. Not unless your dad happened to be Oniroku Dan — and if he was, you had bigger problems.
Some of Dan’s movies, like the infamous Flower and Snake, have shown up in English, but until Vertical brought out Season of Infidelity earlier this month nothing he’s written has been given the same treatment. Infidelity culls four stories from Dan’s back catalog, and what’s most fascinating is not the gamut of fetishes and perversities that Dan catalogs for the reader — that part’s pretty predictable — but the tone of the whole thing. Dan mines his various autobiographical anecdotes as much for sentimental self-pity as he does for salaciousness.
Those familiar with all the myriad ways Tab A goes into Slot B can have their pick of the fetishes on display in this book, but I suspect they’ll also be surprised and fascinated by the details Dan offers about the mechanics of the sexual underworld of Japan across decades past. The second story, “Pretty Boy”, has some of the best examples of this: it’s nominally about a tragic homosexual liaison Dan ostensibly had as a teen (how much is fact is not clear), but also goes into some detail about the subculture of onna-gata, males who play female roles in kabuki even in the present day. Dan’s infatuation for Kikuo, the pretty boy of the title, ends very badly indeed when some local thugs (male and female both) abuse Kikuo mercilessly for allegedly stealing Dan’s girlfriend from him. The story ends up being at least as much about Dan’s own sense of emotional complicity with everything that happens as it does the raunchy details of the torture itself. Even more unnerving, though, is seeing how the same sentimental fascination with beautiful suffering exists more or less intact in the eroge and hentai manga that have all but displaced Dan’s work with today’s audiences in Japan.
The opening story, the titular “Season of Infidelity” is both funnier and bitterer. In it, Dan describes how his career as a sleaze-merchant collided head-on with his role as a husband, a citizen, and as a friend. He nearly loses his status as all three of those things, but not before wringing out of his not-so-hapless assistant a loin-churning description of his wife’s philandering with him. Those of you who might have seen S&M Writer will recognize it as the main inspiration for the movie, right down to individual (and hilarious) details like the diagram of Dan’s wife’s genitals that a buddy cheerfully supplies to explain better how she gets turned on. The film preserves Dan’s curious mixture of both raunch and moon-eyed romanticism over what he’s lost.
For me the most interesting material in Season revolved around Dan’s work in film — specifically, Nikkatsu Studios, Japan’s source for all cinematic things bump-and-grindhouse. For a decade and change they marketed a seemingly unending torrent of adult films, some of which ought to be used as case studies in how censorship creates new kinds of perversion. Since certain things simply cannot be shown on film in Japan, the producers simply swapped sexual explicitness for the kind of extreme (sometimes outright mean-spirited) inflammation of the passions that Dan wrote into many of his stories. It was okay to show things as vile as a nude girl defecating as she floated in a man-sized goldfish bowl — just as long as you didn’t actually show any sex. Couldn’t have that. (See Nagisa Oshima’s adventures with In the Realm of the Senses for how that maverick did his own end-run around Japanese censorship.)
The last segment of the book, “Bewitching Bloom”, deals with Dan’s time in the film industry, but most specifically his longtime relationship with Naomi Tani, the actress who ended up being the centerpiece of many of his most notorious productions: Flower and Snake, Wife to be Sacrified¸and tons more. She shrugged off her fame as an easy-come-easy-go sort of thing; for instance, she shed no tears over never being photographed by Kishin Shinoyama (he of John/Yoko Double Fantasy fame, among many others). That story plays out like low comedy, with Naomi missing the shoot because she was in jail — and the cops praising what a great figure she has but also promising not to strip-search her.
Two Dans seem to be on display throughout Season. The first is the Sade-esque sexual adventurer, who delights in capturing the erotic misery of another. The second is a now-weatherbeaten old man who had some good times, a few really bad ones, who has as few illusions about himself as he can manage to have, and who humiliates himself in his stories at least as much as any of the people getting the business end of the riding crop. For a guy who classifies himself as a sadist, he’s at least as much masochist, often unadmitted.