Gengoroh Tagame

Interview by
Zac Bayly
Photography by
Georg F. W. Rohlfing


If Gengoroh Tagame performed the acts he drew in his comics he'd probably be dead or in jail. Amputation, humiliation, bondage, rape, incest, bestiality and the frequent use of various instruments of torture — in ‘Masochist’, for example, the titular character gets a Pepsi bottle up his ass and his nipples clipped with binderclips — are all optional in his type of bara manga. His panels tend to frame a kind of burly bottom with loads of sexual endurance and a very high pain threshold. Despite all the heavy duty subject matter in his work, Tagame (with his translator Anne) was rather buoyant when we hung out on Skype and LOL’d pretty much the entire time.

Zac: Hello!
Anne: Sorry, we just got a visitor. Are you…?
Housekeeper: I work here.
Anne: Ah, the housekeeper just showed up. We’re going to be on the phone here, so maybe no loud sounds?
Housekeeper: Okay, okay!
Anne: We’re in New York and Tagame’s staying at the art director’s apartment, which is where we are.
What are you doing with your time in New York?
Gengoroh: We have a signing tonight, and I guess I’m probably going to see some museums or something. Gays don’t just use their iPhone apps to fuck — they also go to museums!
How much of your artwork is loosely inspired by your own hookups or stories from friends?
Gengoroh: Well, I certainly participate in gay BDSM culture — very much so. As for what the storylines, it’s not that I’ve heard of it being done or anything, it’s just I let my imagination roam and try to figure out what that would look like. As for the visuals, you know, I remember watching fist-fucking on gay videos for the first time and thinking it was so spectacular, so I wanted to draw that.
What did you find spectacular about it?
Gengoroh: I saw the anal flower open up like a rose — you know, the rose shape? And I just thought, ‘What the fuck?’ And it was the first time I’d seen that.
You’re talking about the shape of the anus after fist-fucking, right?
Gengoroh: Yeah. The rose shape when the anus releases tension.
Anne: This must be really interesting for the housekeeper. I wonder if she knows that we’re meant to be here.
I’m going to try and think of questions to embarrass you now. Do you ever fist-fuck?
Gengoroh: Unfortunately, no. My partner, he’s done it in the past, so I’ve heard stories from him.
How long have you been with your partner?
Gengoroh: Twenty years?
How did you guys meet?
Gengoroh: He was kind of my stalker. He was a porn star before. I was a big fan of the his work, and we followed each other, and eventually met.
Anne: I know how these two met, and it’s a really funny story. Tagame had sort of been watching this guy’s pornos, and he started to illustrate him. He had a giant pin-up of him on the wall as inspiration for one of his stories. Tagame had just self-published a book, and the porn star bought a copy. So, he found Tagame’s address somehow, and came to his door, and was like, ‘I’m here to collect the book that I bought that wasn’t delivered.’ And then he was like, ‘Wait, is that a drawing of me on the wall?’.
Is this book the first time that your work has been translated into English?
Gengoroh: This is the first English translation, but I’ve been translated into Italian, French and Spanish already.
Are there certain things in Japanese culture and language that don’t translate?
Gengoroh: Well, as far as Japanese culture is concerned — because I don’t like much of modern reality — I never think that’s an issue in translating to another language, because my stories are never about modern Japanese culture anyway. Certainly, if I’m writing in a historical setting, there might be difficulty in translating those nuances.
What kinds of stories get you excited?
Gengoroh: The S&M-oriented stories, definitely. When the main character faces a complete loss of hope.
Is that indicative of you being a master rather than a slave in BDSM?
Gengoroh: As a writer, I am definitely the master, and I really enjoy writing because I want to be in the dom position when I’m composing stories. I also enjoy taking on the perspective of the slave who idealizes the perfect master.
Bears feature prominently in your work, but are there many Asian bears? My ex is Asian and he said it’s like impossible to find Asian bears.
Gengoroh: Yeah, maybe not so much with the largeness, but hairy is certainly rare. It’s not that they don’t exist… It’s not that I draw hairy men because there aren’t a lot of them — I depict them because I like them. That’s what turns me on. They could be Asian, they could be anything really. The race doesn’t matter.
Do you ever feel physically aroused by your own work?
Gengoroh: Yes.
Do you have a favorite?
Gengoroh: Hmm… I don’t have a favorite story, but I do have stories that I’m more confident about, like the longer books. For example, ‘Do You Remember the South Island’s P.O.W. Camp?’. Those are all longer editions.

BUTT - Remember_intext_web
The gang bang scene from 'Do You Remember the South Island’s P.O.W. Camp?'

I see you’ve got quite a beard. Everyone has a beard these days. Is that happening in Japan too?
Gengoroh: Yeah, I guess some men in Tokyo are growing beards. But a lot of men in Tokyo are not actually allowed to wear a beard to work. When I got my first job at the college, on my first day, they told me to shave my beard! This is quite a while back, though.
Do you get a lot of fan mail from people?
Gengoroh: Not so much fan mail, but lately a lot of people reach out to me on Twitter and Facebook.
Do you get weird requests, like people inviting you to have sex or draw them?
Gengoroh: Well, nothing really too weird through Facebook or Twitter. I have an online contact form, and I certainly get some weirder sorts of requests there. A lot of people send nude pictures of themselves to me. I’ve been asked to be some people’s master, or sometimes they send me a story, and ask me to make it into a comic.
Has there ever been anything that you’ve drawn and thought it’s too full-on?
Gengoroh: Yeah, definitely. I’ve done things that I thought were too hard, but I’ve put them out anyway. One that that was maybe too hard was called ‘Tumble Doll Military Police’. It’s about a military figure whose arms and legs are cut off, and he’s turned into a doll to be played with. It spans thirty years…
As a manga artist, are you allowed to be more transgressive, and approach more taboo subject matter?
Gengoroh: In that manga is a form of fiction, I definitely believe that I have free license. It can be as extreme as I want.
What do you want to convey in your comics?
Gengoroh: The main thing is self-acceptance. Accepting that your desires — the things that turn you on — should never to be dissuaded by social or local laws. Whatever they may be. When the main characters in my stories accept their personal needs and desires, they tend to have happier endings. I’m not trying to depict an ideal, but rather how ugly the world can actually be, and that amidst that ugliness, the tiniest bit of love or happiness can really mean a lot. The real world continues to be segregated, continues to fight wars, continues to be violent against people, so maybe hope is quite small in all of that.
Does self-acceptance bring more hope and happiness into the world?
Gengoroh: Yeah. Even if the world is your enemy, as long as you have this feeling inside, you’ll be fine.
Is it true that your family is descended from samurais?
Gengoroh: That rumor’s been a bit exaggerated by my French editor, but there is samurai in my ancestry. My father’s is an incredibly old house. Technically, there’s samurai somewhere in my ancestry.
Anne: He’s not an aristocrat or anything!
Have your own kinks and fetishes evolved since you started drawing comics?
Gengoroh: In that reality is attached to fiction and vice versa, I definitely have learned to create a clear division between reality and fantasy. Because it’s dangerous when you try to play out your fantasies, I’ve created very clear parameters for myself.
What’s the kinkiest thing you’ve done?
Gengoroh: Hmm… I’m not really all that kinky, but the most enlightening thing I’ve experienced was realizing that it felt good to have my penis slapped really hard. My penis was…
Anne: Just wait for a second!
Is that the housekeeper again?
Anne: I think she’s doing laundry.
She’s probably trying to stay on the other side of the house!
Gengoroh: My penis was taped to the side, and then it was slapped with a leather belt. I realized that it felt good to go through that pain.
It felt good to have done it, or it feels good in the moment of impact?
Gengoroh: It was the sensation of being like ‘OW!’ and being excited at the same time. Like I went ‘OW!’ and then a little pre-cum came out.
Anne: You should try it.

‘The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame: Master of Erotic Manga’ from PictureBox gives his most celebrated works a fresh English translation. The book includes a story about a young doctor who becomes the village bicycle, and another about a cop who has premonitions when he cums. All things Tagame are here.

Published on 22 August 2014