Or everything you always wanted to know about Japanese erotic bondage when you suddenly realized that you didn't speak Japanese

The Beauty of Kinbaku
and Art
Please note: no part of these articles may be reproduced by any means without the express written consent of the author or the publisher, King Cat Ink.

Chapter Seven

Kinbaku and Art-American Bakushi Part Two –
Working with Michel Comte – The Expression of Ecstasy

by Master "K"

When the call came in from Michel Comte's representatives that they wanted to work with the LA rope dojo on a project for GQ magazine Italy my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. Not only is Michel one of the most famous and highly regarded fashion photographers working today but to do a project for so prestigious a client as GQ would not only be a tremendous challenge but also a great opportunity to bring the art of Kinbaku to a huge and discriminating audience. Needless to say, we jumped at the chance.

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In so doing he has photographed most of the most famous and beautiful women in the world including: Catherine Deneuve, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz, Sharon Stone, Uma Thermon, etc., etc., etc. (Click here for more.) In addition, he has just completed a film, "The Girl from Nagasaki" which was shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting but Michel's way of working is a fascinating process to be a part of. It starts with a quietly working crew, evocative music and a "mood board" of images taken from art books, films and advertising that Michel picks out to inspire him during any shoot he's engaged upon. 

As I write this the May issue of GQ Italy has just appeared on newsstands in the US and we're delighted to share the photos of the layout (plus some commentary) with you now.
The largest picture, in fact the two page centerfold of the layout, was a strict Gyaku-ebi. Who said there couldn't be real Kinbaku in a fashion shoot!? The caption reads:

                "Those who sew without a knot
                   lose the thread and sigh. (Tuscan proverb)"

I can honestly say that I've never worked with another photographer who, with the shift of a prop or the moving of a model's arm, could so effortlessly change the ordinary into the extraordinary. It was an honor to work with Michel and his team. And… it got better!

It became apparent as the shoot wore on that we were all getting along quite well but it was still a surprise when Michel approached us at the end of the day and asked if we could come back the following morning and do a second photo shoot! This time it would be for Interview Magazine (Germany) and would involve even more complex Kinbaku. But that's a story for another time …

Please join us next time as we continue our exploration into the fascinating subject of “Kinbaku in Art!” 
Cover of GQ Italy, May 2015. The cover features the famous Italian 
World Cup soccer goalkeeper Gigi Buffon.
Title page of the GQ layout. The caption reads,"The Bonds of Love."
Strict Gyaku-ebi. 
Milk Studios exterior in Holllywood, California.
Lady Gaga in Vogue (Japan): Photo by Nobuyoshi Araki, Rope by Watanabe Yasuji.
For those that might not know him, Michel Comte is one of the world's most famous and honored fashion photographers who for over 30 years has worked with all the major fashion houses such as Vogue, Armani, Versace, Revlon, and Chanel as well as high-end automobile firms like Mercedes Benz, BMW and Jaguar creating unforgettable and iconic images for their advertising. 
Poster for the film "The Girl From Nagasaki" directed by Michel Comte and featuring Mariko Wordell, Edoardo Ponti, Christopher Lee, Michael Wincott, Michael Nyqvist, Polina Semionova, Ayako Yoshida.
We first met with Michel, his lovely wife Ayako Yoshida and his producer over coffee to discuss the project. It immediately became clear that this would be completely unlike the project I had done with and for the wonderful celebrity photographer Michael Helms (please see the preceding chapter of this series). While that shoot was both an interesting teaching exercise as well as a wonderful Kinbaku art photography opportunity, this was to be a no-nonsense, high budget advertising gig for an international client. In other words, it would draw on completely different rope skills from the bakushi.
Happily, after a fairly long discussion and rehearsal, where we talked about Kinbaku as an art capable of very sophisticated types of design and as an activity capable of producing deep emotional and physical pleasures, as well as practicing a few rudimentary safe and fun suspensions, all (or at least most) of the nerves were settled and everyone on the team was looking forward to an exciting experience.

For instance, one of the more challenging aspects was how tall and thin our lovely models were. Proportionally, they were very different from Japanese models and quite a contrast to most Western models as well. As one might imagine, this was a particular issue for a shoot that had Kinbaku as a fashion element since the number of wraps and the way they were positioned on the body often became integral to the photographic design. With such lithe forms as our models possessed, one wrap too many could easily become unattractive and a lot of thinking went into getting each pattern exactly right. 
Shot after shot was taken and as the models relaxed and began to enjoy the experience (despite the hard work) something fascinating happened and the alchemy that combined Michel's genius and eye, the rope and the faces and forms of our models took over and some extraordinary things began to occur.
The layout's title picture is a good example of Kinbaku as fashion. It's also a perfect example of Michel's unerring eye for the wonderful expression of the models he photographs. The only phrase that comes to mind is, "the expression of ecstasy." The caption reads, "The Bonds of Love."
The Italians have a genius for design and the layout of the six page GQ spread was really unique. On several pages one picture was placed over another to create a kind of collage effect and it was especially striking. The caption reads, "In these pages Michel Comte presents l'arte del bondage. From Rembrandt's Andromeda Chained (1631) to '50 Shades of Gray,' the pleasure of tying the lover is a constant of our erotic imagination."

Another example of Kinbaku as costume. Note the interesting composition and use of color.
This proved to be very wise because when I and my good friend, student and colleague Zetsu, who would join me in the shoot, met with them to go over the specific ties we were going to do, it became clear that these two lovely young women had some serious misunderstandings and misgivings that needed to be overcome. For one thing, as soon as they had gotten the job, both models had immediately gone on the Internet where they and their nearest and dearest (Mothers, guardians and agents) quickly came upon all sorts of misogynistic porn web sites and images that only presented the art of Japanese bondage in one way … and not in the most positive light, at least for the uninitiated. In fact, it would not be too much to say that it was only because they were going to work with the great Michel Comte and had enough trust and confidence in his reputation and artistic integrity that they were willing to continue with the shoot. 
"Michel Comte - Thirty Years and Five Minutes",  Hardcover – September 15, 2009
 A detailed homage to one of photography’s biggest names.
Another example of Michel Comte's fine instinct for the right moment. After doing a fairly complex suspension the image that really jumped was after the model came down! Please note the juxtaposition between the worn, almost tatty furniture and the elegance of the model's pose and the style of the male model's clothing. Another example of Michel's ability to masterfully manipulate contrast for dramatic effect.

"Michel Comte: Not Only Women, Feminine Icons of Our Times", Oct 31, 2011
by Maurizio Vanni and Alessandro Luigi Perna.
Aftermath of an aomuke zuri.
Fortunately for my nerves and confidence, over coffee Michel was very quiet, calm and reassuring. It became clear that for this job the Kinbaku had to integrate with the client's clothes as well as have an erotic element and I immediately thought of my dear sensei Urado Hiroshi who had so artfully done the same sort of thing in many of his famous Nikkatsu films with the great Naomi Tani of the 1970's and 80's. We quickly decided that the first order of business was to discuss the practicalities of the project with the two young models engaged for the shoot. 
The shoot began slowly with much attention to make up, hair and costume but things soon began to flow and we briskly moved through a variety of poses and ties. The speed with which Michel works is quite remarkable and we had to be ready at all times with our rope AND ideas. 
In any case, the work was precise, demanding and fast paced and a far cry from what a professional bakushi does in personal play, for a Kinbaku art shoot or even for film and TV. In short, the goal for me and my team was twofold: to tie in a way that was artistically right for each model and so to accentuate the poses and images that Michel was going for but also to tie safely and comfortably enough not to put off our subjects who were, after all, professional working fashion models and not rope submissives. 
It soon became apparent that what was required was for me and my team to swiftly and intuitively react with our rope to what Michel was creating for each different set up to be photographed. Sometimes this meant figuring how to work with a particular piece of furniture or how to adjust a suspension for the lighting or how to find a complementary tie for a particular piece of clothing.
After 12 hours of continuous effort, minus an hour for an exquisitely prepared lunch, the job was done. 
The studio facility used for the GQ shoot was the fabulous Milk complex in Hollywood where myself, Zetsu and the other 2 members of our 4 person "rope team," crocoduck and PaperBullets, met to begin our work. This is one of the most high-end photo studios in the US, if not the world, and everything about it from the equipment to the studio space to the catering was first class. It was a pleasure to work there.
I immediately began to think of my talk with Watanabe Yasuji and the challenges he faced doing the tying for the world-famous Nobuyoshi Araki when that celebrated photographer shot Lady Gaga for Vogue (Japan) several years ago (Please see chapter 3 of this series.).

The Beauty of Kinbaku
This page is best viewed on Google Chrome.
Please note: no part of these articles may be reproduced by any means without the express written consent of the author or the publisher, King Cat Ink.

and Art

Or everything you always wanted to know about Japanese erotic bondage when you suddenly realized that you didn't speak Japanese