Part 3 - Taboos and Secrets
Tagame's comic book style gives him scope to explore the psychology of his characters and his work is full of men with secrets and illicit desires ready to be used against them, like the runaway gangster in 'Kodama' who is trapped by his rescuer (see Part 1).
Panty Fetishist caught out in Tagame's 'Maso'
In 'Maso' there is a young man who not only has a fetish for women's underpants, but also gets a kick out of trying them on at night in the aisle of the local 24-7 store. Unfortunately his activity is spotted by the checkout operator.
Bullies at Work in Tagame's 'Maso'
Rather than calling the police and exposing the panty boy to public humiliation, the checkout operator decides to bring in two buddies. They strip the fetishist and put him through a series of painful trials utilising commonplace items on sale in the store.
(The characterisation of the bullies in this image is very Yaoi-like especially the spiky-faced character in the centre.)
Beating Scene from 'Maso'
The bullies degradations include shaving the victim, pissing on him and inserting objects into his backside. This torment is briefly interrupted by a fierce belt beating (above) whose intensity Tagame simulates with frightening success using impact patterning and a blurred effect to convey the violence of the attack and the confusion of the victim. It makes Bound Gods seem quite tame!
There's too much sexual involvement by the attackers for this little sketch of homophobic bullying to be truly lifelike but their cruelty and contempt are all too believable. However, at the very end it transpires that the whole thing is a set-up and the victim has actually enjoyed it, regretting only that his assailants declined to fuck him. In the final frame of the story, the chief 'bully' turns out to be his (controlling) boyfriend. This last minute 'sanitisation' doesn't really neutralise the abuse but merely slants it in a different direction.
Tagame's clever choice of a much-derided, feminising fetish, (a minority group within a minority group), allows him to lure readers who see themselves as 'normal' into the bullies camp. Obviously, it's not meant to be a morality story and he lets their consciences off the hook at the very end, but it gives some insight into the thoughtfulness of his story telling.
The writing of this story features two stylistic devices which are often used by Tagame. The surprise ending (or reveal) closes the story with a satisfying(?) twist that causes the reader to backtrack and look for the 'evidence' he missed (like the fact that the victim appears to have donned the panties without removing his trousers). The other sophisticated feature is some selective time shifting back and forth, which he uses to disguise the true motivation of characters. This trick enhances the quality of his story telling, but unfortunately makes his stories even harder to decipher without a decent translation.
Associating homosexuality with being female seems to be as common in Japan as it is elsewhere in the world, but Tagame says the negative connotations are an importation from the West and sets out to prove it in 'Inaka Isha'.
The Doctor's Ceremonial Shafting from Tagame's 'Inaka Isha'
A gay Doctor recently transferred from a big city hospital to a remote country village strikes up a casual relationship with an agricultural worker. In the respectability of village life, this homosexual affair with a married man transgresses a host of conventional taboos, not least the social gulf between the Doctor's professional status and that of his bit of 'rural rough'. His fear when his secret is discovered turns to shame as he stumbles into further, increasingly sleazy, sexual encounters, threatening his standing in the community. As word of his promiscuity spreads, however, the men of the village, in an unexpected but bizarrely logical outcome, decide to recruit him as their official, collective concubine. In the scene above, the happy villagers sing their traditional wedding song as the Doctor formally accepts the post (so to speak). This somewhat one-sided expression of commitment is freely adapted from the more usual 'ring on finger' tradition - but is rather more embarrassing to perform in front of a large congregation. The Doctor finds this humiliation outweighed by anticipation of pleasures to come.
The ingredients of this humorous story – conventions, taboos, secrets, self discovery and acceptance - mirror the journey of all gay men. Interestingly, even in Tagame's Utopian vision of a non-judgemental, accepting community of simple folk, the Doctor's promiscuity still causes him to be set aside and (in effect) exploited – albeit kindly. Hmmmm.
Looking purely at this artwork, it's a good example of how the comic book 'commentary' (which is simply singing and sound effects) diminishes the impact of what would otherwise be a powerful image. The unfamiliar costumes are an obstacle to westerners too, but I guess that's our problem not Tagame's!
The Husband's Remorse in Tagame's 'Gedo'
Tagame turns the shame of failing to conform back against the straight world in 'Gedo'. This simple image conveys the humiliation of the impotent husband as he grovels naked before the disapproving family and it's a very erotic moment for us as on-lookers. It's easy to take nudity for granted in scenes like this (less so if you reach it via Tagame's scene-setting) but you only have to imagine doing this before your own family to realise how difficult and embarrassing this act of exposure and contrition would be. Transfer to the Orient with it's heightened traditions of position, responsibility and 'face' and you can see how such a punishment would be scarcely less painful than the beating meted out in 'Maso' (above).
Loosing face is also the theme of this image although the victim is the last to know about it. I don't have a translation of this story (or it's title even! Help!) but the mature man shown tied and blindfolded appears to be a politician, his long hair perhaps suggesting academic or reforming leanings, a pillar of society in other words. He also has a taste for sadistic young men and here he is being offered up by one to his political colleagues/enemies who gloat over the revelation of his secret and the power it gives them. Thankfully he has a better body than your average politician!
Kazuma Undressed in Tagame's 'The Trap'
(read frames in normal left to right sequence)
The forcible undressing of this bewildered young man in a scene from 'The Trap' layers fear, uncertainty and power play over the most basic of erotic acts – exposure of the naked body. The multi-frame comic format is ideally suited to depicting progressive disrobing of course, but size restrictions on frames and the need to vary the image lead to a detail-snapshot approach which seems tantalisingly incomplete when viewed at leisure. The ideas in frames 1, 3 and 6 are good enough to form the basis of more substantial images and this tells you how much creativity is consumed by these works. The cartoon-y style creates an ambiguity about the age of the youth. Tagame flirts with this from time to time, but of course it is unwelcome (nay taboo!) these days. I'd prefer an older looking man anyway, which would make his loss of power more compelling - (see next image!).
Tormented Hero in Tagame's 'SIPOW'
If physical coercion plays a major part in Tagame's repertoire (and it's implicit in any bondage scene) he does occasionally depict men who voluntarily submit to abuse for altruistic reasons, like the prisoner in SIPOW (South Island Prisoner of War) who surrenders to the sexual demands of the Camp Commandant in order to obtain medicine for his sick comrade. This hero is one of Tagame's more appealing creations - handsome, muscular, hirsute, positively oozing masculinity – and in his scenes with the sick man - touchingly compassionate. His story is not Tagame's most inventive S&M-wise but does feature some interesting twists.
Enema Test from Tagame's 'Pride'
(Read the frames from right to left)
It seems appropriate to conclude this section on psychological plot ingredients with a reference to pride, which comes before a fall and is quite a different animal to the fear and anxiety which drives many of Tagame's stories. It also happens to be the title of one of Tagame's best works, mentioned previously in Part 1. This page from the story shows the besotted student undergoing an enema cleansing so that he might be fit to receive his master's tool for the first time. Tied up in the lounge of the Professor's luxurious flat, the torment of having to retain the fluid needs little imagining.
In the sanitised world of modern porn, enema waters always run clear. Not in Tagame-land though, where the follow-on, emptying of bowels is depicted in graphic detail. I won't test the mettle of my readers by reproducing that here. The revulsion it usually causes is shared equally by the victim of course and that's exactly why a forced public performance is such a powerful humiliation. The perpetrator and witness is the Professor, who the young student victim looks up to and desperately wishes to please. A more telling chastisement for his sin of pride is hard to imagine.
Tagame uses this device frequently in his stories in order to put his men in their place, but thankfully he doesn't usually pursue the subject in greater depth than I have described. For example, it is this procedure (which I alluded to in Part1) that is inflicted in 'Kodama' on the gangster, without warning, by his rescuer, an otherwise perfect stranger. You can imagine the shock and bewilderment that would follow for a grown man, a hoodlum used to bossing lesser men.
We could debate the validity of Tagame's willingness to shock, he does place his atrocities in a thought out context but I know it must deter many readers from the whole of his work, which is a shame. In the final part of this series I will present some lollipops to sooth the nerves.
See more of his work at Tagame's website
For previous articles in this 'mitchmen' series click on the A-Z label below