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star struck

Risqué business
Porn star-turned-tarento Ai Iijima meets the press
By Carlo Niederberger

Ai Iijima had little idea what speaking at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan entailed, or even what the FCCJ was for that matter. So finding out she’d be on equal footing with people like Prime Minster Junichiro Koizumi, soccer legend Diego Maradona and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, she proudly claimed her recent appearance to be “revolutionary.”

The former porn star, now a TV “talent,” showed up in a clean-cut, charcoal gray suit with an elegant, rose brooch—a far cry from how she dressed (or undressed, as the case may be) back in 1992. Then a rebellious 20-year-old, Iijima made her first adult film, following stints in karaoke joints, snack bars and Ginza hostess clubs. “I hated my parents, to the point where I would rather be with bums sleeping in parks wrapped in newspaper blankets,” says Iijima, whose real name is Mitsuko Ishii. In the end, she ran away, found it hard to make ends meet, and set foot in the porn industry with an “Oh well, why not” attitude, her eyes blinded by yen symbols.

Although adult movies made her famous, Iijima said most girls in the male-dominated industry have a different fate. She pointed out how scouts lure young girls to take their clothes off with little reward, promising they’ll only be seen on the Internet. “These girls have no idea how far-reaching the web is.”

Given her past, Iijima’s comments naturally convey a touch of feminism and disdain for Japan’s aging male elite. “Viagra was approved by lawmakers in less than a year, while the pill took a long, long time. How unfair, you oyaji!” mocked the 32-year-old, whose “autobiographical” novel Platonic Sex has sold over a million copies and has been translated into Korean, Taiwanese and Italian, with an English version coming soon.

Iijima once had dinner with Koizumi, then the minister for health and welfare, who entertained her with tales of fornicating dragonflies. But she said she has no interest in politics, except for infamous scandals such as those involving Muneo Suzuki, a disgraced politician from Hokkaido, or former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka. “If I ever become a politician, that would spell the end of Japan,” she joked.

Trying to shed her past image, Iijima skillfully dodged questions that were “below the belt,” but touched upon issues like sex education and teenage girls. Is she worried they may follow in her footsteps? “Kids aren’t fragile things that need protection,” she said. “They’re actually pretty smart.” And her advice for them is carpe diem. “If today brings laughter, I’m more than happy. If I try looking ten years ahead to what I’ll be doing, I lose track of tomorrow.”

Photo credit: Carlo Niederberger

 

 

the scene

Miss Universe Japan Kick-Off Party

The pageant's 15 finalists strut their stuff at Roppongi Hills' Meridiana

Clockwise from top: Miss Universe Japan director Ines Ligron with Kazumasa Terada, president of Samantha Thavasa Japan Ltd., one of the contest sponsors; current Miss Japan Eri Machimoto with Ligron; the 15 finalists who will vie for the Miss Japan title next March; the pageant's first twin contestants: Takako, left and Junko Tomita

Photos by Chris Betros

 

 

q&a
Daniel Smith

In this age of multimedia, Daniel Smith is carving out a niche in Japan with Access Television (ACTV), a privately held video production/print news service specializing in entertainment, sports and travel features. Its programs include Black Life in Japan, Access E, The Emissary and www.accessEonline.com. Born and raised in St. Louis, Smith started ACTV in 1997 as a joint venture between himself and Americable International Japan, a firm hired by the military to supply cable programming to US military bases in Japan.

When did you first come to Japan?
In 1983, with the Air Force. I was assigned to Kadena as editor of the base newspaper.

What's ACTV all about?
My desire was to move beyond the military TV market, so in 1999 I began producing a bilingual program called Chui Tashiki Dashiki for the Okinawa Cable Network. In 2000, I expanded on that by filming entertainment and sports features, on a contract basis for the Tokyo Bureau of the Associated Press Television News. Later, I added reporting on entertainment for BET Nightly News and launching my own weekly television show Black Life in Japan, which airs in the US, Europe and Africa, and an entertainment web site, www.accessEonline.com. We also produce a My Life in Japan corner for several cable networks and an Access E movie page.

Is there much demand overseas for Japan entertainment news?
In my experience filming features for APTN and the 300 or so major TV networks worldwide that subscribed to their entertainment service, I found that the demand is high if packaged right. You have to be creative to satisfy both the domestic market, which needs publicity right now, and the international market, which can never get enough of the big stars.

What's the best part about your work?
I can set my own agenda. We select stories we think our readers and television viewers want-not those that are force-fed down their throats.

What's the most frustrating part?
The inability of many people here who work for the movie or music industry to understand that they-and more importantly their celebrity clients-benefit from the international coverage people like us can give them. It's a mindset I try to change every day.

How do you like to chill out?
If I had my way, I'd play basketball every day. In the absence of that, I turn to music and movies. I'm a sponge for sci-fi flicks. CB

Photo credit: Chris Betros

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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