I was beyond eager to help with the photo shoot! I woke up before 07:00 and we were going to leave at 08:00. I got dressed, made some soba noodles and made sure that Steve-san's rope bags were ready. It was ten to 08:00 and still no Steve, and we were supposed to leave. I started freaking out because I thought he may have left without me. But his rope bags are here so that couldn't be. I decide to get a drink at the convenience store downstairs and head to the elevator. The elevator door opens and Steve gets off of it.
We gather everything together and make our way to the Ikebukuro train station. We are meeting up with Morikawa Mari and board the train. It's about a 15-minute ride and we exit and take a cab to the site.
We arrive on time at 09:00. From what I understand, sugiura norio has rented out a three-story building for this shoot. My understanding is that we will probably be finished by 21:00. We enter at the ground floor and wait in the first floor area. We are met by the make-up person and then we go to the third floor, where the first part of the shoot takes place.
Mari-chan goes to make up and will spend about an hour getting ready. Steve-san instructs me to re-coil all the ropes. Separate the long ropes from the short ones, the ropes to be used for suspensions (strong ones) from the ropes used for the body (soft ones).
So this is where I should do some explaining. As rope people, especially Japanese style, we are told we use certain lengths – either seven or eight meters. No more no less. However, Sugiura Norio's idea is that you use whatever size it takes; seven meters, four, two, and even one. In the middle of a shoot, Sugiura-sensei may call for a short rope to tie for a certain effect and you better damn well have it one day before he asks!
My responsibility is to keep the rope coiled and to hand the rope to Steve-san when he needs it. There is no time for niceties so things may get intense, brevity and short communication is key for today.
Sugiura-san walks in and begins to talk to Steve-san about the shoot. I am also introduced as the professional rope coiler (ugh) but it's all in good fun. Sugiura-san is very nice to me and asks what part of the US I'm from. I tell him the midwest. He asks the upper or lower part and I tell him right in the middle. “So-so,” he responds, which means he understands and acknowledges what I said. He seems like a very nice man. I have heard that he can be very tough at times, but to me he seems fairly easy going.
Sugiura stands about 5'3″ and is in his late 60s. He's wearing blue jeans, sleeveless shirt and a skull cap made of cloth or something. He has three of his sons assisting him on his shoot.
I am called into the set by Steve-san. The set is a classroom setting overlooking the city. There are desks, maps and a globe, a chalk board and books. One side of the room is pretty much glass windows. I am told to tie a bamboo pole to an eye bolt that is screwed into a buttress in the ceiling. Steve-san already tied one, I tie the other.
After that the shoot will begin…
Mari-chan is the teacher. She steps in front of the classroom, with empty desks. She is wearing a white blouse, a black tight form fitting knee length skirt with a black blazer and glasses.
They test the light, Sugiura's sons are either filming video, or holding up reflectors to put light where they need it. Sugiura picks up his camera and begins giving orders on how we wants mari-chan to pose. If he approves he says: “So, so, so, so,” and when he finishes he concludes with “Okay!” This man is animated, he is everywhere! It is just as interesting to watch him shoot as it is to watch the beautiful Mari-chan. I find myself vacillating between the two. It is a lot to take in.
Sugiura takes about 4 to 8 frames on average. If its good then he may take 10 to 15. He's everywhere! On his knees, on his back, on his side, on the ladder, its amazing! But here is the challenge, wherever he goes, the light, and film must follow. That also means that other members of the crew like myself have to stay out of the way and make sure there aren't any other materials in the shot not supposed to be there.
Why is this tough, because Sugiura-san is ALWAYS on the move. He sees something and he picks up his camera and is on the move – which means we are on the move!
So it's time for the shibari now. Steve begins to tie, as per Sugiura's instructions. The rope is expected to be on as soon as possible and look good. I have rope of all required lengths on hand to give to Steve when needed. The tie is done within minutes and it looks good. The shooting begins “So, so, so, soooo! Okay!” Then Steve begins tying another tie, then shooting again, and we're moving around Sugiura so he can have what he needs.
Mari-chan's shirt becomes unbuttoned, you can see more cleavage, and her hair is taken down. “Short rope!” Sugiura demands, and Steve ties a minute area as requested. Shooting begins again.
Untie, ropes come flying off, I grab and begin to coil and separate long from short, my fingers are a bit tired from coiling every rope at hand (about 50 pieces).
So we get things together. Sugiura-san is standing off alone looking very pensive and meditating. He talks to Steve-san. Shooting begins again. Rope comes on, then is removed.
Steve-san is then asked to tie mari-chan in a certain way, with bamboo. The reason why this is odd, because no one thinks that it is humanly possible. But Sugiura thinks it is. So Mari-chan's elbows are pushed together and tied, her forearms are left untied and posed horizontally. It is very deformed but beautiful. Steve-san ties in that position and ties the bamboo to it. It is surreal looking. Sugiura hits the shutter as if his life depended on it.
Sugiura is very committed to each and every shot and will move or put himself in any position to get it, even if he has to risk his well being. He stands on a ladder and moves to a position that causes him to fall. But his sons and Steve-san, aware of how Sugiura-san is, are all there to catch him.
This scares the hell out of me, but makes me understand why he is the best at what he does, why he is the demanding visionary that expects the impossible and unthinkable and it is reflected in his photography. I am amazed!
It's lunch time and it is provided by Sugiura-san. He sits on the floor next to Steve-san and I sit on the floor with him. Sugiura does not eat a lot of rice and offers me half of it, in addition to half of his fried beef patty. These meals are a hefty size and although I am hungry, I am afraid that I may not be able to eat as much on the plate. But I happily take it, and am pretty honored that he shares his meal with me.
Lunch was very nice but pretty uneventful. At this point I assess the previous three hours and I also realize how sore my fingers have become. “How does Steve do this?”, I think to myself. I have fairly rough hands from working manual labor as a young man, but handling rope at that intensity for three consecutive hours is taxing. Moreover, we still have about nine hours left! How does he do it?
Not only is Steve handling rope very intensely, but the quality of the level of tying expected is pretty amazing. I consider myself an above average rope guy in the United States, but the expectation of Sugiura Norio and how Steve meets those expectations every time, in my opinion is beyond my understanding. I am critical of myself and of what I see as a consumer of bondage art, but this level of excellence, I have no words.
When someone says, “I have this in mind” and the person does it, is a level of professionalism and mastery in rope that I haven't seen before. I have done more than a few photo shoots, and have seen a few. I don't know what's going on at the Armory at Kink.com, and maybe they tie on this level. What I do know is that the level of excellence, in my opinion, was so high, that it almost was surreal.
Watching rope and photography done on that level has left an indelible impression on me. Its not only the technical difficulty of the rope applied, but the speed in seemingly lack of effort in which it was done. It wasn't an individual taking pictures and praying for a good shot. He had a way of looking at the moment, taking the shot and finding forever in each shot.
Sugiura wanted the impossible, and Steve gave it to him. But what of the model?
Mari-chan, standing at 5'7″ or 5'8″ is exceptionally tall for a Japanese woman, and she has wicked curves and is well endowed, a D-cup easily, if not more. She has full lips and large doe eyes and is a bombshell of a woman.
But believe it or not, that wasn't the striking part of her. What was striking about Mari-chan was her professionalism and willingness to give everything she had for every shot. As playful and as delicate as she looks, she is one of the TOUGHEST models, aside from Asagi Ageha, that I have ever seen. Like Ageha, Mari-chan has the IT factor.
How can two very submissive women become so BIG in front of the camera and in front of a crowd? It was a very big paradox, but that is what makes them so awesome!
While Sugiura-san was giving his orders, while Steve-san applied these impossible ties, Mari-chan gave what she had to them both – she just did it. No complaints, she just did it.
The ties were demanding, the poses were impossible and she did them. After lunch, we went to the basement where Mari-chan would do the following: kata-ashizuri (one leg suspension) sakasazuri (inverted suspension), yokozuri (sideways suspension), yokozuri, without a suspension line to the torso (this means all of the load would be on her hips and legs). In my mind, this suspension shouldn't work unless you construct a hip harness that would be able to hold the load. But to add to the difficulty, Mari-chan was placed at a 30 degree angle downward!
Before this shoot begins, I tie the ladder that will be used as the suspension points to the ceiling beams. I have to find short and strong rope (new rope between 2-4 meters). My fingers are killing me!
There is a jail cell in the basement and it is painted black. When I see the room, I think to myself, what do they use this place for? I never had time to ask.
The photographers check the light, I have the rope ready. Steve-san inspect the rope and there are a few he says that are no good, so I have to find some more and make sure they are coiled. We are low on short rope and I hope we don't need any.
The shoot begins, Steve and Mari are working and the tie is almost complete and Sugiura calls for short rope!, and I don't have enough! I hurry to cut and knot off 4 pieces that are immediately used! Then all of a sudden I hear David! Shibate! (David! Tie!) What?! He wants me to help tie her legs to the jail cell! Bam! Tied! This isn't the first time I tied Mari for the shoot, I also help with a leg tie earlier! I have just graduated from rope coiler, to tier of small body parts and he doesn't say that my rope looks like shit! I feel very, very honored that Steve-san has enough faith in me to allow this!
There is so much scrambling and movement going on, its a madhouse! You gotta be tough! I play a small part, but I am even becoming physically and mentally drained. How does everyone maintain this impossible pace?
The suspension progressions become difficult, eventually I am called in to hold up the model a few times so that we can continue the shot. God Mari-chan is tough. The more ravished she looks, the more Sugiura-san shoots, he is capturing the pain.
The last shots of the evening, Mari-chan looks exhausted between shots! But during shooting she looks just as fresh as she did at 10 AM. Its 7:30 PM Mari-chan looks so dis-oriented, so beat, that I feel sorry for her. She falls to the dirty, cold floor, and Sugiura begins shooting, taking every last bit of energy Mari-chan has to give “So, so, so, so….Okay!” and we are done! Mari-chan gets up like a little girl and skips off, smiling. She's giggly and goes off to take a shower.
I get the ropes, coil them and untie the ladder then Steve-san helps me with it. We clean up and we all go to dinner at Sugiura-san's treat!
Day 6: Dinner with the crew
We all catch a cab to a Chinese restaurant close to a train station. I was asked to choose part of the meal for everyone (unbeknown to me at the time, as I thought I was choosing a dish for me). I chose dumplings in addition to prawns. We had 1000-year duck eggs and other delicacies as well. All I could think about was Green Eggs and Ham, when I tried the dish for the first time. We all have a beer and toast the success of the shoot! Kampai and the food was very tasty (Oishii desu).
Sugiura-san asks if I've heard of his website (http://www.sugiuranorio.jp/e/) and I said YES! He offered me a gift of some videos of his work and I felt very honored! My gift that I eventually left for him with Steve-san was an exotic bondage t-shirt that Steve-san said he will give to him.
We left and parted ways. Steve-san and I took the train back to the Osada-ryu HQ, dropping off Mari-chan at Shinjuku.
I arrived to my room and collapsed from sheer exhaustion.
You can see more of Sugiura Norio's work at his website: http://www.sugiuranorio.jp/e/