ALISTAIR HIMMER y BEHROUZ MEHRI
Tokyo -- It seemed like such a good idea -- write a story that takes a look at the lives of Japanese men and their silicone lovers. What could be a better lifestyle story than that? But reporting took a disturbing toll on both lifestyle correspondent Alastair Himmer and Tokyo photo chief Behrouz Mehri.
In this picture taken late on June 13, 2017, physiotherapist Masayuki Ozaki puts his silicone sex doll Mayu to bed at a love hotel in Yachimata, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
Behrouz: I was traumatised for days. I mean, who wouldn’t be after a sleepless night shooting a Japanese man in bed with his sex doll. An actual doll.
In this picture taken on June 14, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima takes his silicone sex doll Saori to the beach at Kujukuri beach, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
In this picture taken on June 14, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima tries to surf with his silicone sex doll Saori at Kujukuri beach, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
Alastair: No kidding! You don't expect to be emotionally scarred by a lifestyle story -- and certainly not by a rubber doll. It seemed like such a good idea at the time: write a story that takes a look at the lives of Japanese men and their silicone lovers. I’m AFP’s lifestyle and sports correspondent in Japan and if this wasn’t a lifestyle story, I don’t know what was. I admit that I have previously had odd experiences doing my job. I once ran off the set of a porn shoot. But that was child's play compared to sex dolls.
But poor Behrouz. He hadn’t been exposed to something like that before. I feel awful about what I did to the Tokyo photo chief. But you have to understand my perspective. It took me nine months to set up this story. You don’t just approach someone on the street and ask them “Can we photograph you and your sex doll.” You make contacts, you get to know the people, you develop trust. I didn’t want to blow all those efforts with some hackneyed, tabloid-style guffaw at Japanese men who go on dates with lifesize dummies. So when Behrouz asked me to ask one of the men, Senji Nakajima, if he could spend the night at his place for the story, I spat coffee all over my shirt. But I asked and Senji agreed and Behrouz went.
In this picture taken late on June 13, 2017, physiotherapist Masayuki Ozaki hugs his silicone sex doll Mayu at a love hotel in Yachimata, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
In this picture taken late on June 13, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima adjusts the hair of his silicone sex doll Saori at a love hotel in Yachimata, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
B: He popped out to the convenience store and left me alone with four sex dolls in his cluttered Tokyo flat. It was a very strange situation. It got even stranger once the lights went out. I climbed into my sleeping bag, just a couple of metres from where Nakajima was sleeping with his favourite doll Saori. And just when I thought nothing was going to happen he started taking his clothes off, then hers, and having sex. I took pictures of course. But it was a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.
In this picture taken early on June 14, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima hugs his silicone sex doll Saori while sleeping at a love hotel in Yachimata, Chiba prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
A: I had gone home for a long shower after our interview at Nakajima's and when I returned the next morning, I found Behrouz in a local burger restaurant looking frazzled. He hadn't had dinner the previous evening as he had been too busy snapping photos and was picking at a chocolate cake for breakfast.
B: For a few days after that I was a different person. My mind was troubled for two or three days after. I don't judge of course. But it was difficult for me.
A: I remember -- for the record! -- telling Behrouz he didn't have to spend the night.
B: You need to show that intimacy to tell the story. It's a love story for Nakajima and (the other man in our feature Masayuki) Ozaki so you have to show it's real life.
In this picture taken on April 21, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima (L) picnics with his silicone sex doll Saori under cherry blossoms in Yamanashi prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
In this picture taken on April 21, 2017, 62-year-old Senji Nakajima takes his silicone sex doll Saori to a picnic under the cherry blossoms in Yamanashi prefecture. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
A: Hours of small talk and shooting the breeze were needed to make the subjects feel comfortable enough to reveal intimate details of their private lives in their interviews. They were trying in their own way to come to terms with past hurt and it was important to show their struggle in a respectful way through text and photos.
Like when Ozaki spoke of how his wife and daughter -- who live under the same roof as him and his silicone squeeze Mayu -- feel about their bizarre living arrangement.
How Ozaki's daughter gets Mayu's hand-me-down clothes or how Nakajima's voice trailed off when he told us: "I'll never go back to dating a real woman again -- no matter what happens."
In this picture taken on May 9, 2017, physiotherapist Masayuki Ozaki poses with his silicone sex dolls at his bedroom in Tokyo. (AFP / Behrouz Mehri)
B: The night before Nakajima and Ozaki were set to take their dolls surfing (yes, you read that correctly), they spent the night in a love hotel with faux Venus de Milo statues and round beds. I went along. I got so involved shooting that I ended up staying the night on the couch in Nakajima's room in another awkward menage-a-trois.
At one point, they both started taking a bath with their dolls in their rooms at the same time. I was dashing back and forth from room to room taking pictures. My first time in a love hotel and I'm sharing a room with a guy and his love doll!
A: I really can't apologise enough.
De AFP, 19/07/2017