The March 2007 issue of Nikkei Entertainment! playfully warns that “black ships” (黒船) — a reference to American Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 opening of Japan — have arrived in the Japanese gravure (gurabia/gravia) bikini model world. Out of nowhere, a foreign model has stepped foot on sacred soil to displace the pre-existing domestic army of half-naked gals to win the hearts of hard-working Japanese men. In just the last few months, Leah Dizon has gone from the fringes of the industry to the becoming a ubiquitous face on the subway ads for weekly magazines.
Dizon — half-Caucasian/half-Filipino-Chinese — had been working as a relatively-unknown and slightly-naughty model back in the West Coast car circuit before somewhat miraculously being picked up by the Japanese talent complex and thrust into stardom. She is neither Japanese by blood nor speaks the local language with much fluency, but her success proves that such properties were never actually necessary to fit into the plastic fantastic world of selling visual fantasy to the male of the species. She’s a Weekly Playboy regular now, and Japan’s nerds started salivating once they realized she looks quite similar to Maetel from Galaxy Express 999.
Dizon’s cross-cultural journey gives a rare chance to peer into the differences in sexual-aesthetic between the two sides of the Pacific. She has gone from looking like a throbbing orb of aggressive sexuality to a demure and well-groomed model out of Can Cam.
Dizon’s handlers appear to have tailored her public image to attract female fans as well as male (check out her ridiculous nail art and trademark Japanese girl cross-hand pose in the aforementioned Nikkei Entertainment! if you have a chance), but we should not assume that she has been “cleaned up” at the expense of male tastes. My contacts in the female fashion trade have argued that Japanese women need to maintain a certain amount of “class” and moderation in order to attract Japanese men. Over-sexualized fashion in Japan is strictly for “unattractive” women to feel good about themselves — not to reel in men.
In such an environment, Dizon’s American persona and images are way too aggressive as a female product in the Japanese market. She first must become cute and adorable in a slightly infantile way to establish a non-threatening demeanor. Only then can she show off some skin. Otherwise her curves and sinister smile are an attack on non-confident male sexuality rather than a reward for it.
Here again we come to the psycho-sexual underpinnings of American and Japanese porn. Cast into simplified binaries deduced from the dominant tenor of the pornography, American men want women who echo their own hawkish and callous approach to casual sex; Japanese men are interested in reluctance rather than a predictable submission. Sex in Japan should be a sphere in which the man is the only warrior — where the hawk devours the dove.
So, Leah Dizon becomes the dove next door whose clothes accidentally fall off once and a while.