Thursday, February 11, 2010

From Shunga to Aroma

Pornography is rarely treated as art. Instead, it is disparaged in the media, joked about, and generally demeaned. For many, it is an uncomfortable subject. In the West especially, embracing and acknowledging the aesthetics of pornography tends to color one as a "pervert". 

To me, every subject is potentially fascinating; I don't care whether that subject is universally appalling, repulsive, or the target of international condemnation. The fascination increases or decreases based purely on the artist's treatment of it.

Pornographic still photographers are definitely artists. Quite often, their box covers and press materials are superior to the movies and videos they're shilling.


It's easy to understand why the still images are often so superior. The photographers are just shooting a handful of images and they have more time to compose, light, and stage them. The videographers, on the other hand, have much more stringent time limits, so their aesthetics suffer. Only occasionally do I see a work that is equal to the box cover art.


These "wallpapers" from Aroma Planning, a leading Japanese fetish producer, are stunning examples of pornographic art.

The works they represent are hardcore, but they capture a sizzling aesthetic and evoke an emotional state that is intoxicating.

With perfect costuming, simple art direction, selective focus, and unconventional framing, they trigger a response in us (well, some of us!) that is complex and and intense. 

For Aroma, these pieces are soft examples of their diverse output.


The company is fetish-focused, so their output runs the gamut from traditional, vanilla sex to scenarios involving all bodily fluids, bondage, S/M, and traditional girl/girl, girl/boy, and girl/girl/boy configurations.  


Interestingly, the company released a notorious, somewhat dull horror flick, Psycho - The Snuff Reels/aka Tumbling Doll of Flesh (Niku Daruma) in '88. It featured hardcore sex, bondage, and realistically faked Guinea Pig-style  torture and dismemberment.

A memorable sequence involved the slitting open of a woman's stomach and the subsequent penetration of the yawning gape.

Aroma did not release many similar films.


Humans first lived in what is now known as Japan in 30,000 B.C. Folks from Korea walked to the island of Kyushu, which was connected to the Korean peninsula at the time, and formed the Jomon culture, which lasted for 10,000 years. The Jomon invented pottery and fashioned female figurines

Eventually, they were displaced by immigrants from China (the Yayoi) who were fleeing the dessication of what we now know as the Gobi desert. Northern China was once a paradise, but once the desert dried up, they headed for Korea. Later, they were displaced by more immigrants from China, so they chose Japan as their home.


The Yayoi, bringing their knowledge of agriculture, toolmaking, and a religion that would become known as Shintoism centuries later, eventually replaced the Jamon.This period, around 300 A.D., marked the beginning of true Japanese culture.
Depictions of sexuality in Japan began with shunga in the Heian period (794 - 1185). Although the word actually means "picture of Spring" (a less offensive word for sex in Japan), it is more commonly used to describe erotic art.

The erotic art (shunga) of the period was mostly expressed in ukiyo-e (woodblock) format.

Interestingly, shunga's origins are Chinese, and probably an outgrowth of medical manual illustrations. As was common, the shunga artists always exaggerated the size of genitals in order to express another side of the character, the 'second face'.

The shunga also depicted diverse and bizarre sexuality in order to provide variety; even in the 1800's, sex with animals and sea creatures was common; the octopus porn of today (Genki) is not new.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), the shunga explored wild and wonderful worlds of erotic fantasy, a world that still characterizes Japanese pornography today -- and separates it from the Western perspective.

Japanese pornography today (the offspring of shunga) exists in an alternative universe where anything is possible, and anything is permissible. The separation of public and private characterizes Japanese art (and society), and it is why the Japanese are less hysterical about eroticism.

Over many centuries, they've developed a mature, sensible attitude to an artform that the Western world is still too infantile to understand.  


  1. That drawn cover is pretty interesting. The details are great.

  2. Ficciones -- yes, very hot, and great art.


    d -- I find it fascinating that Aroma will do something like this. I find myself fascinated by Japanese porn companies.