Saki Otsuka: We, humans, are dark inside

Photography: Andrey Bold


A line between art and porn is a blur and a tired topic for an ongoing debate. It's a gray zone for artists to indulge their inner passions, poke crumbling socioreligious taboos and get noticed. If artists can routinely benefit from it, very few of those who made a name for themselves in porn ever make it into art. As complementary as the two worlds are they run parallel to one another.

Saki Otsuka, an ex-porn actress, now making a living as a photographer and an artist, may not break ground, but her innate, tempered by real experience, existentialist take on the darkness of human nature is certainly noteworthy.


Saki Otsuka

I was born in 1984, in a crowded, messy Tokyo downtown with a big shopping arcade street. I'd watch some grownups already drinking in midday, and in the evening pimps would show up to catch drunken people on the street.


I started a career in porn because I was interested in seeing a multitude of human desires. At the age of 18, thinking of my future, I have realized that life is one’s own artwork, and started to wonder what I can do to turn myself into my own work. I wanted to express human desire in my creative pursuit, that’s why I thought I need to see desires of many people. I was convinced I must have diverse experiences to make a good work.
Sex is an extreme expression of our desire. I wanted to look inside, to see a carnal itch people suppress in their everyday life. In those days I saw porn as a world saturated with lust, so I threw myself in, expecting my emotions would drive me to create.



I found porn business less dark than I had expected. Still, I feel it's a form of human trafficking.
Some people think porn actresses are unhappy. Indeed, I often feel they are dissatisfied, but being a porn actress is never equal unhappiness. It seems many of them are simply trying to find their place.


I’m often asked whether I regret [being a porn actress], but my answer is no. I made this choice. I fully experienced plenty of joy, pain and frustration. It was an important period for me.


I decided to quit after about 10 years in the business. I felt really satisfied with what I had done and had nothing I wanted to do any more. Besides, I felt recession was coming after the earthquake of 3.11, which was another reason to quit.
After quitting I felt my body became surprisingly light, so I even thought I must have been possessed by something. (Laughs) It was like recovering myself... a very strange feeling.


Now, I can no longer tell whether I liked it or not very clearly. I hear a lot of Japanese women can’t enjoy sex, not me, I think I have more triggers than others.
I really appreciate that I don’t have to strictly control my weight anymore. I don’t have to get up early either (Laughs). The best thing is that now I can work as an artist.


I hate a certain atmosphere when men parade lust. Once I sense such lechery fills up the air, I start feeling as if sex is becoming a wrestle with a man. Maybe I’ve got fed up with fighting in this sense. I’ve seen most of psychological patterns in sex, so I’ve got bored and not excited to act them out myself any longer.
I sometimes shoot people doing it, but my interest is in people taken up by passion, not sex itself, which is not that different from the curiosity of my [porn] actress days.


I used to earn, well, of course more than I do now, but it doesn’t matter. In a way I continue the same thing, as I try this and that to earn money “by myself,” which I rather enjoy.


I rarely photograph myself. I had sold myself as a commodity, objectifying myself for my own photography would be something my audience can easily understand, and maybe, something they want. However, just repeating myself gets me nowhere. Also, I’m not an expressive, look-at-me, type. Now, that I quit porn, I feel relieved that I no longer have to expose myself against my will.


I prefer shooting girls because they conceal many worries in their hearts. I feel sympathy, as their worries are similar to what I used to have, and by taking their photos I can identify with them. I think the feeling of identification is something indispensable in photography. I feel coming close to my innermost self when I appear in my work relating to someone else.


Nudity remains my main theme because I want to photograph “inside” of a human being. It also exposes our animal nature.
I believe we, humans, are dark inside. That is the reason my work has somewhat dark atmosphere.


Drawing allows me to express my inner psyche, exactly what I feel inside. Photography requires expressing your inner self while involving others, along with a space, good lighting, models meeting your expectations and the like. These are two different forms of expression, but I feel both are necessary for me. I just follow my feeling and choose which I want to go with at the moment. Besides, drawing helps me to reduce stress, and photography is stressful.


You can often find images of fingers in my drawings. I draw them as a symbol of human desire, so my fundamental theme remains unchanged, be it photography or drawing. Yet, drawing shows desire as I conceive it while photography captures it appearing out there.
You can say, I use drawing for my subjective experience and photography for objective ones.


Recently, I've been working on a project called “Hotel-B.” It's a series about an imaginary love hotel in which I photograph people acting out their bare desires. There are 100 rooms, and I’m working on completing all of them.

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Translation: Masamichi Tamura