The Asian Invasion

Erik Jay
On March 31, 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry negotiated the first treaty between Japan and the United States. Within 90 years, Japan had industrialized sufficiently to win the Russo-Japanese War, invade mainland China, march through the Far East and then, in 1941, bomb Pearl Harbor. Then World War II commenced.

Thus ended Japan's hopes of global military domination, but the "Asian invasion" that commenced with Commodore Perry has continued to this day, albeit in different ways. In the post-war period, the new weapons targeting our shores were mass-produced consumer goods, televisions and compact cars. By the 1980s, the invading armies were no longer Oriental men in uniforms, whether military or corporate, but sexy Asian women in adult movies.

The allure of all things Oriental has much to do with myth, magic and lore, but the effect on Westerners is quite real. Asian women are thought to possess special, even mystical, knowledge about sexuality and sensuality. References to ancient Chinese sex manuals and Japanese geisha traditions add a patina of factuality to these cultural myths, far in excess of their true evidentiary value.

Yet the legends persist, and tons of money is spent on Asian porn in the West, year in and year out. Even in a small market like Great Britain, according to the BBC "Asian Network Report," the huge demand for "Asian pornography is outstripping supply [and] the appetite for Asian porn is insatiable." We Americans are not so different from our cousins across the pond, and we share their fascination with Oriental beauties.

For a long time, most Asian porn was soft-core stuff, despite the fact that Japanese comic books, for example, are full of violence and degradation. To Westerners, though, Asian women were usually portrayed as shy, delicate and passive. "I founded Oriental Dream Pictures," says CEO Yoshi Kasuga, "to show that Asian titles could be high quality and hardcore, as well."

Even the hardcore Asian movies from Oriental Dream Pictures (ODP) play on the cultural stereotypes and enduring myths of the bewitching Asian temptress. "I don't think it is anything mystical or magical," Kasuga suggests. "It is just personal preference. But because of the relative rarity of Asian women in Western countries and in porn, I can understand that some consumers may be intrigued by them."

Kasuga founded ODP in 2001, after being introduced to the industry by Don "Asianman" Fernando, for whom he did camera work. By 2005, ODP was firing on all cylinders and winning awards for best ethnic-themed productions. The firm operates on a simple formula: beauty, quality and value.

The precise way that the ODP recipe is cooked up depends on various factors, such as genre, talent and a title's intended market. Kasuga says the firm's films "are shot here in the U.S., sometimes in Europe, or in Japan [only by] directors and producers affiliated with ODP." The company does not buy content of any kind from any source, maintaining quality control from casting through distribution.

"Production costs," Kasuga notes, "are relatively similar, but Japanese talent can be very costly, depending on the girl. It's getting like the U.S. market, where popular girls command higher rates, as well." Since locations depend on the theme and type of movie being made, ODP's production formula allows for a range of location-related costs, involving the same sort of number-crunching and money-juggling that other small studios contend with – exacerbated, of course, by fluctuating exchange rates and travel costs.

Making international movies with international casts makes you an international business, so whatever a firm's initial size, growth is a must. What does a niche market company do to expand? Simple: It expands the definition of its niche.

Time was, Kasuga recalls, that "the term 'Asian' used to cover everything from Asia, from anywhere in Asia," but he has noticed a definite change in consumer behavior recently. "It seems," he continues, "that the consumer is looking for more specific kinds, like Japanese, Filipino, Chinese and Korean. Currently our best sellers are the Japanese and interracial titles, but now we will try to focus on all Asian genres."

With the extremely small percentage of U.S.-based Asian women performing as talent, shooting ODP movies in the States is often challenging. "We do the usual, like having casting calls for talent," Kasuga says, "and we go through the model agencies, too." The same process is used for films being made in Europe and Japan, although some cultural boundaries and attitudes have to be considered.

Some Americans have problems relating to Asians, and may misread people as being standoffish when they are simply being shy or cautious. With his background and language skills, Kasuga is not given to, or subject to, such misinterpretations. "I'm not sure what the misconceptions are," he admits, "because I see the market as an international one right now, and don't go into any deal with any preconceptions to begin with."

In whatever language, apparently, straight talk is straight talk, and Americans unskilled in "intercultural relations" should take this truism to heart if they want to deal successfully in Asian markets.

Kasuga has noticed some loosening of the cultural straitjackets in Asia. "In some of those countries, adult films are not that easily found but are still in circulation," he notes. ODP films, of course, are "made for the worldwide market, but there is growing demand for them in the countries where they're filmed."

The growth of the Asian "Tiger" economies has spurred both local and international change, including a degree of political liberalization. There won't be any overnight transformation — Beijing won't ever turn into Las Vegas — but there is no going back, either.

ODP will continue its winning ways in 2008 and beyond. "Blu-ray titles are on the way" for his firm, Kasuga says, "as well as a heavier presence on the Internet, IPTV and cable/on-demand systems." With a solid, growing inventory of quality productions, ODP is well situated to serve the softcore hotel and cable markets while simultaneously dishing out the hardcore titles.

The company Kasuga built should continue to prosper with its "beauty, quality and value" formula and its burgeoning bevy of Asian babes. And there's nothing mysterious about that at all.