Irie Saaya Takes Orders

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Got a thoughtful comment on my last Irie Saaya post. The commentator writes of watching a Saaya DVD and noticing very strong direction on the part of Garo Aida, the photographer and cameraman for Saaya:

For almost the whole DVD, I heard this guy telling her what to do, and she did as he said. If he wanted her big big smile, he just said something to make her laugh; if he wanted some shots with a sexual look, he just told her to move her clothes around, or to bend over. If his voice became a bit too loud, they covered it up with background music, etc… You get the idea.

So, what I’m really want to say is, it seems like Saaya herself doesn’t even know that some(/most) of the stuff she did will make all lolicons go wild: all she really did was just taking orders from the camera guy and just, you know, smiling.

So, comparing Saaya to Hoshino Aki is a bit too far in my opinion. I’m pretty sure Aki knows what she really is doing (making sexy pose, etc.). But judging from the whole DVD I saw, I don’t believe Saaya knows what she have been doing at all. And that’s understandable, considering that she has just turned 12.

It’d be instructive to consider statements from Saaya’s management office as well as Garo Aida himself, both courtesy of the indispensable Santos at Idolizing St. Anna. Taking it further, there’s several related points worth considering in all this.

First, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Saaya takes direction. All models take direction from their photographers and cameramen, it’s part of the job. This Garo Aida seems especially gifted, given the results with Saaya – as well as the expansive offerings on his website. Further, I’ll agree someone as young and (we can safely assume) inexperienced as Saaya would need more direction than an older, more seasoned model. Education, even one as public as this, is always a good thing.

However, I think it’s best to see Garo Aida and Irie Saaya as collaborators, not as master and puppet. It’s an admittedly uneven collaboration but that comes from the lopsided professional experiences of each person. That said, I’ll stand by the idea that there’s something innate in Saaya that helps her along, a quality that makes her a potent young gravure idol. Or to turn it around, I seriously doubt that Garo Aida can succeed with any prepubsecent girl the way he did with Saaya.

And for some reason, I doubt the F-cup measurement is the only reason Saaya’s gotten everyone’s attention. (I’ll admit, maybe I feel this way because I personally don’t care for large breasts.) It’s a good gimmick to grab people’s attention, certainly, and it gives her a figure unique from many girls her age… But not all the photos emphasize her cleavage – and quite frankly, they don’t need to. And not all full-figure girls, whatever their age, opt to be models, never mind receieve the high profile that Saaya has.

Second, while it’d be nice to assume that Saaya is an innocent girl being told to laugh and pose without any real awareness of the effect it would have on her intended audience, I don’t think we can take a preteen’s innocence about sexuality as a given. Lacking full knowledge of sex and one’s own sexuality, yes. But being completely ignorant of these matters? In this day and age? Not very likely.

Pre-teens today look up to the likes of Britney Spears and Gwen Stefani, they watch rap videos where women make an effort to bounce their figures in as tight an outfit as possible. In short, they’re fed a steady diet of media-derived sex and take their cues from the popular culture around them. This isn’t a new development – there was Madonna in the late eighties, disco in the seventies, the counterculture’s free love in the sixties, juvenile delinquent hysteria in the fifties – but it’s definitely heightened and become more explicit as civilization marches towards terminal postmodernity.

My main issue here is the equation of a certain kind of youthful beauty with innocence, a desire to revere that kind of beauty as an ideal of childhood purity. This is not a new attitude, and goes back at least to the Victorian cult of childhood – something best remembered today by Lewis Carroll and his inspiration for the Alice in Wonderland stories. However, such a stance seeks to justify itself on solely aesthetic grounds – her innocent beauty is enjoyment enough, there’s no need to place the burden of sexuality on her youthful appeal. And I think that falls short of the mark, because an opinion that nakedly aesthetic is still based on certain assumption about society and sexual identity. Those assumptions are worth examining as much as the beliefs that underline unabashed rorikon lust.

We’re looking at two extremes here. If someone focuses too much on Saaya’s sexuality, on her figure (and, God help us, her age) as a source of arousal and fantasy, that does her an injustice. The people who feel so strongly about Saaya as a sexual being are condemned for being into rorikon and not considering that behind the fantasy is a real child who isn’t fully sexually aware. I’d also add that it does her work as a model an injustice.: for all the paradoxical simplicity of the sexually maturing innocent, it’s still a paradox that drives her appeal.

But to swing too far on the other side, to try to set aside the voluptuous figure and its ability to arouse simply by being voluptuous – that is, to call solely on the rhetoric of innocence and freshness as the source of Saaya’s appeal… Well, such opinions are following their own agenda, their own philosophy, and should be examined just as rigorously. (And the Victorians may not be a bad place to start…)

I’m not even going to begin to explore the basic premises implicit in each stance. For now, it’s enough to admit they’re there and that they can tell us a great deal about society, about cultural mores.

Third, the commentator makes a good point that Saaya is not a skilled gravure idol, that unlike Hoshino Aki she isn’t as aware of her assets – her body, the right way to move, the right looks to give the camera. This actually works to her advantage, however: not being fully aware, there’s often a reticence in her poses, in the looks she gives the camera, that adds to her aura, that plays off her image of innocence on the verge of awakening maturity.

Adult gravure models often flirt openly with the camera, taking command of their sexuality and having fun with it. I like Kumada Yoko best when she’s enjoying herself and being goofy as well as sexy. I haven’t seen the DVD but the photos I’ve downloaded have nothing so overt with Saaya. I’d argue it’d look wrong on her if they went that way – it’d make her look more juvenile (after all, the flip side of innocence is the goofy unawareness of childhood) or too artificial (since such on-screen flirtation does take a certain skill to pull off).

But there’s no better education than experience, is there? And by engaging in this business, Saaya’s going to grow up very fast. It’s only a matter of time before she acquires the skills and know-how of an Ogura Yuko or Hoshino Aki. (Whether or not she’ll wield those skills as well as older idols is a whole other concern.) Already she must be aware that her body is a commodity, a source of power and even control. You can’t possibly pose in a bikini in front of eager young men for hours at a time and not consider what advantages can be dealt with such a situation. If anything, the childhood tendency to simplify power structures – “Because I said so” or “That’s just how it is” – may mean a starker, more mercenary understanding of the gravure model and her work than if Saaya started such modeling at a later age.

So by being interested in Saaya as a model, whether as a sexual figure or as a fresh-faced innocent or an uneasy combination of both, we actually accelerate her understanding of what it means to be a woman, a sexual being, a gravure model, a commodity. To make the most painfully obvious of observations, we are all complicit in the highly public education of Irie Saaya.

And I’m sure her parents, her agents, her photographer, her co-idols in Sweet Kiss, and Saaya herself are all grateful for this chance.

Just to be clear, I don’t think any of this necessarily contradicts the comment I received. Rather, I wanted to draw out some of the complexities suggested by the commentator and throw it into the dialogue as further food for thought. (At the rate I’m going, it’s only a matter of time before I can ask for three credits in Irie Saaya Studies…)

One last thing: from all accounts I’ve seen, Saaya was born in November 1993 – making her eleven still and not yet twelve. Not for another half a year. And it’s another six years before she’s legal. But that’s neither here nor there.

All this talk about Saaya’s been helpful for me, it’s been a thoughtful dialogue on a topic most people would probably resist discussing at all. The more I look at her, the better I understand her attraction. I don’t think I gave her enough credit to start with, and now the full dimensions – the complexity of the situation – makes it easier to respect her and what she’s achieved with her career.