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Message updated 6th Mar 2021

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Mitchell's A-Z of Fetish Artists - Hasegawa Part 1

This article replaces my original A-Z entry on Hasegawa, published in June 2009

Hasegawa - Captive and Kittens

Sadao Hasagawa produced a wide range of gay art in a variety of technical and artistic styles.
 His most obvious fetish credentials stem from depictions of bondage such as that above. His pictures often include unusual, mysterious symbolism like the mischievous kittens on the right who appear to be implicated in the young man's bound-up state and have left their claw marks on his upper body*.

Meanwhile S&M clothes pegs lie unused on the floor and incense(?) smoke writhes around him
 lending an air of sexual ritual to the proceedings and suggesting that there are more trials to come.
No wonder the captive looks sweaty, confused and fearful!

Hasegawa captures herethe thrill of submitting to bondage by another another man.

His depiction of the captive man is sensual, with luscious, chunky muscularity,
somewhat in the style of Tom of Finland but more grounded in realism,
such as hair detail on his body and legs.

 * I gather that cats have great significance in Japan as cute bringers of good luck but also as creatures with a hidden capacity for great wickedness. However I hesitate to interpret their precise role in this picture, which I suspect is more complex than that! 

Hasegawa - Sailor and Kitten
This picture seems to show a man in the process of submitting to bondage - with another kitten in attendance. His face is expressionless, maybe a little sad, but the water lilies rising behind him seem to the symbolise the unmistakeable sexual excitement in the air.

The subject wears a US Sailor's cap but is unmistakeably Japanese. Westerners might relate this combination to the Madam Butterfly story or simply to the occupation of Japan after WWII. The headgear doesn't really fit with the lowered shorts but they are also somewhat Western in style. So there's a sense here of the exotic, of foreign and perhaps powerful cultural influences. His resigned face and proud posture suggests they are not necessarily welcome or considered benign.

Hasegawa - Athlete in Bondage
This is one of my favourite Hasegawa pictures. The ripped clothing and restraint to angled scaffolding conjures up the idea of a jogger waylaid on his morning run and carried off to an abandoned building site for further attention. His shorts carry the same double line motif as the sailor above, again hinting at Western branding.

Hasegawa - Swimmer

There's a similar impression of Westernisation in this splendid, Speedo-clad swimmer. This time though it has a message of modernity, reinforced by the jazzy, geometric background with it's anarchistic squiggles and paint splatters.

The model oozes youthful, puppy-fat sexuality but his seductive look is knowing, his lustful state obvious and the dangling drawstrings are openly inviting. He pinches himself too, suggesting that he's got more than romance in mind.

Hasegawa - Martyr
This image makes Hasegawa's connection with American culture much clearer. It appears to be based on a photograph that could have come straight out of AMG's 'Physique Pictorial' magazines (although the mystical symbolism in the bottom corners has a touch of Gilbert and George about it). This picture is from 1979 so the referencing of 60's imagery (when Sadao would have been around 20) suggest it was a significant formative influence.

Unlike AMG's situation, the framing of Japan's censorship laws (and the passage of time) allows Hasegawa to depict the young man's, snug-fitting, 'posing pouch' in a way that reveals almost all that is within. AMG would have labelled this image as 'The Slave', but Hasegawa elevates him to Martyrdom. He defiantly holds a blood-stained quill aloft, a possible clue to his crime.

Yuko Mishima as Saint Sebastian

Hasegawa's Martyr picture was produced shortly after the ritual suicide of Yukio Mishima, who was a famous poet and actor of the time with views which we might regard as nationalistic today. There's an obvious similarity between his memorable pose as Saint Sebastian (above) and Sadao's picture. It reflects the profound effect of that artist and his death on Japanese society and hints at a darker side to Sadao's personality.

Yuko Mishima wearing a Fundoshi
Mishima was profoundly Japanese in outlook and he is seen here holding a Samurai sword and wearing the traditional, male, underwear garment, the fundoshi, which consists of a single strand of fabric which the wearer winds round himself in a specifically defined manner. It's associated with manhood and learning the ritual is part of a young man's coming-of-age. The self-bondage implied has obvious sexual connotations. It not hard to see how the AMG posing pouch referenced in 'Martyr' might strike have struck a chord with an impressionable young Hasegawa.

Hasegawa - Impaled
In this 1980 picture, Hasegawa reworks the martyr theme with rope bondage in a more Japanese manner and the fundoshi taking centre stage. This martyr has been stabbed with the quill (à la Saint Sebastian) and the picture appears to show his final expiry with a spiritual essence emerging from his mouth, to be escorted to heaven by a hovering bird.

Hasegawa makes no secret of the eroticism he sees in this moment. The loosening of the fundoshi not only reflects that sexual tension but also represents its release from constraints, not least I suppose the constraints of what it is to be a man in Japan.

 The ingredients mentioned above, i.e. US gay culture, retrospective references and dark desires, also feature in this later, collage-like work.

It shows (left) a young man in restraint in a pose that is clearly based on the classic 70's bondage image which I have previously posted in 'My initiation'. Hasegawa's subtle alterations give the figure a 'clean' appearance, so he looks young and inexperienced. There's a sense of him submitting to the dangerous unknown (embodied by the lurking snake) and he's aroused by it. (There's also an element of that in the first picture in this article)

He is contrasted with a more mature man who is undergoing, and thoroughly enjoying, the demanding rigours and domination of a full-blown, leather scene of a later era. There seems to be a story being told in this picture, recalling a young man's passage from an immature interest in male bondage to full S&M sexual expression, with the candles signifying both his burning passion and the passage of time.

I think the creature on the right gnawing at the ropes is a rat rather than a mouse. It adds an element of basement sleaze to Western eyes, but in the East they are usually seen as clever, prudent creatures. Hasegawa has given this one sharp teeth and quite evil eyes, but it's only attacking the ropes.
The nagging of conscience, perhaps? 

Youthful yearnings and explorations are perhaps remembered too in this marvellous image. A young man has tied himself to a post and is enjoying a private fantasy of captivity. A lotus flower opens revealing it's full beauty and symbolising enlightenment and rebirth emerging from murky depths. However, it's a picture which also conjures up an impression of loneliness, accentuated by yet another cat which ignores the young man and pleasures itself.

In this picture there's a more obvious air of experimentation. It shows a young man developing his sexuality by tentatively exploring the sensation of penetration by a dildo (it's a vibrating one too, the electrical gadgetry being a touch of modernity which seems typically Japanese). I believe the picture is entitled 'Revelation' and that sentiment is reflected in the rays of light emanating from his head. These also seem to confer a god-like status on him.

This picture, like the preceding one, bears the 'yin and yang' symbol of spiritual balance and male and female in conjunction. There are more lotus flowers in attendance, they seem to cradle his nether regions in a manner that is highly suggestive of sensuality. Remarkably, Hasegawa manages to infuse this essentially, sexual imagery with a touch of artistic class.

The theme of solitary experimentation seems to reach a climax (if you'll pardon the pun) in this picture, in which pure, sexual sensuality almost succeeds in elbowing the mystical symbolism out of the way, leaving only hints of vulnerability (to prying eyes and sharp claws).

There's not a lot of artiness in this all-fours pose although this man and his sun-kissed bottom are undeniably attractive from a sexual point of view. Looking past that it's hard to avoid a feeling of self-abasement and isolation in this image. In some ways the trailing ropes and untended dildo give an impression of a departed partner. Regardless of that this young man is lost in the moment revelling in multiple erotic sensations and there's no crime in that.

More Hasegawa in Part 2 (next post)



Anonymous said...

The last picture in this posting features many masked figures from regional festivals. This evokes a sort of bacchanalian quality, which fits well with the free-wheeling erotic theme he features. As usual, the menace of the drawn sword adds the soupcon of emotional tension for the viewer's enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

In the picture titled 'Lion Dance' the strip of cloth that encircled the youth's neck, is a tied headband that has slipped down from his forehead. More often than not, fundoshi are usually one solid color, although Hasegawa has been known to use simple patterns like polka dots. This observation puts a different spin of the 'trophy' loincloth. In another sense, it suggests a complete abandonment of all decorum of the wearer and the accidental shifting of clothing that occurs in sexual play.