Part 4 – The Artistry of Tagame
In this final part of my review of Tagame's work I want to pick out some pictures by him that I particularly like.
Tagame - Student Ohashi from 'Pride', Vol 1
'Pride' contains some of Tagame's best drawing and story-telling and this image depicts Ohashi, the handsome but selfish college student who is destined to fall under the control of one of his Professors. In this drawing, Tagame beautifully captures the young man's youthful arrogance and charisma – and his vulnerability too.
Tagame - Ohashi Performs in a Telephone Box (from Pride, Vol 1)
This is one of the highlights of Ohashi's early 'apprenticeship'. His dick has been locked in a chastity cage for weeks and is going crazy with sexual frustration. In order to obtain the combination that will release his dick, he has to go to public telephone box and do what the Professor tells him over the phone – which is to strip naked and use a dildo on himself. I've never quite understood Japanese artists' obsession with dildos and vibrators, it seems to be one of those cultural things, but I do love the phone handset cradled under the student's chin in this picture, it's an authentic little detail that completely explains what is going on – even to someone who has never known the old-style phone boxes.
Tagame produces a gloriously muscular and hairy physique for the young man although it isn't quite what you'd expect of a student. In this picture he has finally been given the information to remove the cage and you get real sense of his pent-up passion. In a significant act of submission, he continues to obey the Professor's commands after release. Unfortunately his mentor has alerted a policeman to 'discover' his indecent performance and arrest him.
Tagame - Ohashi Spanked in Pride Vol 3
Spanking is not common in Tagame's stories and where it does occur, the scenes are often fleeting and depicted as close-up details of buttocks with impact symbols*. This is the only 'full view' example I have found. Tagame seems to use spanking a man as a short, sharp, painful punishment, rather than a way of humiliating him like a child. It's surprising considering how much he uses humiliation techniques, I don't know whether the reason is cultural or personal taste. Whatever the case, this good, old fashioned OTK spanking, is a good picture and once again it's from 'Pride'. It fits neatly into this story of a Student drawn into an increasingly dependant relationship with the Professor who becomes his S&M mentor.
Essentially the 'Pride' story is a variation on the universal theme of 'self-loathing becomes self-discovery' which is an indispensable, justifying ingredient in S&M porn of course. To coin a phrase, “You like that don't you?” (no response required, so don't worry about the gag). However, that's not to mock Tagame's working of the theme which is masterly. What makes 'Pride' so fascinating is the extended 'grooming' of the student through an inventive series of increasingly humiliating and painful tests and trials. The Professor exploits the student's attraction to him and uses manipulative, psychological techniques to keep him coming back for more. I'm not sure it's very scientific – or very nice, but it's an arresting read.
*Incidentally, gags seem to be totally absent!
Tagame - The Lovers Kiss in 'Sensei '
This invocation of love from 'Sensei' is challenging taboos in a quite different area. There's a pleasing Yin-Yang flavour about the coupling and the contrasting characterisation of the two lovers. Despite their nudity, it's pretty non-explicit which allows the romantic attraction to surface and it is no less erotic for that. The swirling background patterning conveys the dreamy intensity of it all, an effect which is amplified by the lack of body boundary lines on the left as though emotions and body are one. This could easily be an unintended by-product of editing in the background, but it's a fortuitous one. Very nice.
Tagame - Funayama Handcuffed (from 'The Trophy')
Back to business with a scene from 'The Trophy' where Officer Funayama (fresh from a whipping) is being readied for the electro-torture which I showed in Part 2. I have spoken of my preference for uncomplicated bondage before and this certainly meets that specification. It's actually quite hard to depict handcuffs realistically in drawings because they are not bulky objects and the real thing is quite unobtrusive when it's being worn, but this rendering works well. The sound-effects don't get in the way too much and are quite helpful in interpreting the captive's otherwise ambiguous expression. The discontinuous background pattern suggests his intense emotion and agitation. As in the previous picture, Tagame's use of this technique adds powerful layers of meaning to his imagery and shines through when the images are detached from their natural comic book habitat.
Tagame - Ginjiro's Itching (from 'Shirogane no Hana' Vol 2)
I have devoted a substantial part of this review to 'Pride' but I also should mention 'Shirogane no Hana' (The Silver Flower) which is considered by many to be Tagame's masterpiece. It's another 3-Volume work and I have never seen a full translation, but it concerns Ginjiro, a professional man sold into prostitution to pay his debts. In this scene his ass has been lubricated with a potion containing irritants and the only way he can scratch it is to use the dildo attached to his heel. This fiendish torment greatly intrigued me when I first came across it, not least for the way it manipulates a proud, virile man and the embarrassing contortions the trick forces him to perform. I believe there is a classic female illustration involving the same device, by using it Tagame is accentuating the man's humiliation.
Tagame - Ginjiro Recaptured (from 'Shirogane no Hana' Vol 2)
The enslaved man manages to escape and is sheltered by his fiancée, but he is betrayed, recaptured and returned to his master, who in this scene ponders how to punish him. No prizes for guessing what the cigarette is for, but that's just the start! The wealthy, cultured, degenerate villain is something of a cliché but his casual power over the virile Ginjiro is still delicious.
There is something about suspension of a captive, like meat on a rack, that adds an extra dimension of threat and vulnerability and his futile struggling betrays his fear after a brief taste of freedom and normality. Tagame has taken the trouble to get the captive's marvellous, chunky physique looking right and you can almost feel his body straining against the tight, creaking ropes. The uncomplicated composition mitigates the confusion introduced by upside-down imagery.
Tagame - Ginjiro Hard at Work (from 'Shirogane no Hana' Vol 2)
The brothel master's clothing in the previous picture reflects the historical setting used for the story. Tagame also references traditional Japanese customs and social graces in it and at one point dresses the reluctant prostitute as a Geisha.
This is a double-edged humiliation that not only questions his masculinity (it's not so long ago that dressing as a woman was equally despised in the West) – it also mocks his inadequate, male coarseness compared to famously cultured and refined Geisha women. It spells out the lowly position he now occupies, inferior to both men and women and this image shows him hard at work in that role.
(another dildo, somewhat ambiguous in character)
Also in evidence here is the lesser known custom of tattooing genitals. It has been carried out on Ginjiro as another (permanent this time) feminising humiliation. Indeed the tattoo, chosen at random by him - a flower attracting butterflies - is both feminine and subtly erotic . The flower (symbolically a source of pollen) is tattooed on the head of his penis and it is from this that the name of the story derives.
Tagame - Sterilising the Tattoo (from 'Shirogane no Hana' Vol 2)
The selection of the tattoo and it's application forms an extended passage in the 'Shirogana' story and is very erotic. Ginjiro does not realise fully what is happening until he is tied down completely helpless and had his penis and balls tightly bound up, so that they stay plump and firm for the painting on of the design and the actual needle work. Being Tagame, it's not enough to simply dress the tattoo wound afterwards, instead it is sterilised in a steaming bath via a spectacular - and very painful – crab style suspension (above).
Tagame - Ginjiro Fitted with Bells (from 'Shirogane no Hana' Vol 3)
This image takes the feminising embellishment a step further as Ginjiro discovers he has now been fitted with little bells which tinkle as he moves. I'm unsure of the cultural background to this but the humiliation of being subjected to such attachments is self-evident. In the West bells like this relate to childhood, merriment and clowning. Tagame uses penis bells in other stories to betray the involuntary arousal of the victims as they are being abused and to draw attention to them in public places. This scene is low key by comparison, but a sweet example of the casual exercise of control, calculated to degrade and dismay the victim.
Tagame - Medical Restraint and Operation
I have a weakness for Medical scenarios. The Doctor-Patient power relationship and the S&M-like procedures involved in surgery give great scope for bondage fantasy (and I explored this in my own 'S&M Clinic' story). I have no idea what story if any this image comes from and the procedure it depicts looks decidedly fanciful, but the terror of the strapped-down patient in the face of multiple invasion by faceless attendants is compelling. Compare with Rex's slightly more authentic treatment of the subject.
(Also click on the 'medical' label below for more medical bondage)
(Also click on the 'medical' label below for more medical bondage)
Tagame - Undergoing Treatment (from Kranke)
It seems fitting to conclude this ramble through Tagame's work with a blockbuster moment, also on a medical theme, from 'Kranke'. This story has none of the subtlety of Pride or the humanity of 'SIPOW'. Simply, a young jogger is abducted following a faked road accident and deliberately incapacitated by surgery while he is unconscious. He is then subjected to a series of drugs and pseudo-medical procedures designed to reduce him to a mindless puppet, capable only of sex.
Tagame crams in every imaginable pseudo-medical, body-invasive torture along the way (perhaps a little too many to really take in properly). The spectacular climax for the 'patient' (above) is a 10 hour ordeal alone with the painful body attachments and machines which continuously medicate, arouse and drain him. His torment does not end there, three months later even his teeth have been removed and he is facing the amputation of all his limbs. The villain's motivation in all this is a mystery, but he does not simply carry out his fiendish plan, he takes the trouble to explain it to the victim, who it seems has been chosen entirely at random, in fact he looks the picture of bemused innocence.
This bleak storyline is not unique in Tagame's output, none of them make for easy reading and yet they have a elemental fascination that is both puzzling and disturbing. The wreaking of terrible revenge for great injustice suffered is not unknown in Japanese art, (the film 'Confessions' is a recent example) and the custom of Hara-Kiri has similar roots in cultural norms relating to offence, shame and honour. So while it's tempting to equate these stories to Hollywood Horror films involving the random, mass slaughter of teenagers (films, by the way, whose obvious sexual sub-text is apparently invisible to the porn censorship lobby), it's probably reasonable to assume that a Japanese reader of Tagame's story will infer the existence of a significant (if unexplained) motivation.
I see in this piece a revenge which springs from a deep anger at a terrible injustice. Many of us will empathise with that to some degree. If the revenge here mirrors the original offence, we see a young, undeserving victim, the paralysis of his free will, an unidentified but heartless oppressor, randomly inflicted pain, control of sexuality, gradual destruction of identity. I leave it to you to imagine the injustice I have in mind, perhaps each of us would choose a different one, maybe that is the beauty and point of the piece.
The size of this article is testament to my regard for this artist but I have hardly scratched the surface of Tagame's work. I'm not totally familiar with his recent stuff so there may be some significant omissions. Even so there are many more amazing images that are just too subversive to share in this blog. His inventive and thoughtful approach to S&M is probably unparalleled today so it is a real shame that there are so many obstacles to enjoying his work.
His choice of character types is wide, from very young to very mature, but he really seems to come into his own when drawing chunky, muscular, hairy, 30-ish men with luxuriant moustaches and eyebrows – not everyone's cup of tea perhaps and a tad out of fashion right now.
Tagame's uncompromising challenging of taboos will probably test most of us too at some point. I can only say that any fetish art enthusiast owes it to himself to explore Tagame's work and dig into the stories beyond the isolated images like those in this article. Don't be put off by the stuff you don't like, just pass it by, you won't be disappointed.
See more of his work at Tagame's website
Some his stories are available, in English, in book form at sites like Amazon.
This is the natural way to enjoy his work and it's not terribly expensive.
For previous articles in this 'mitchmen' series click on the A-Z label below