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Still from RoboGeisha
"My eyes are up here", still from RoboGeisha (2009)via stuffpoint.com

How Asami went from porn star to B-horror babe

The former Japanese skin flick fixture now enjoys her newfound status as low budget splatter icon

Asami Sugiura was once a leading name in Japan’s notoriously prolific bump and grind scene. And then a new career arrived. Ever since 2008, the shapely adult video starlet has transitioned into a low budget splatter movie matriarch – largely thanks to the success of the direct-to-DVD hit The Machine Girl. Producers of plasma-packed shockers immediately took notice and what followed was a flurry of Asami-starring limb-lopping sensations. Choice titles include RoboGeisha (2009), Helldriver (2010) and the upcoming gangster noir, Gun Woman. Now firmly cemented as a Japanese Scream Queen, Asami spoke to us at the annual Sitges Film Festival about her past life in the Tokyo skin-trade.

Japan may have a history of ‘pink’ cinema (basically violent thrillers but with obscene amounts of gratuitous nudity) and a somewhat anarchistic approach to pornography (almost anything goes – only pubic hair and genitals are censored) but Asami maintains it is all behind closed doors. “If you watch adult movies, you do not generally talk about it,” admits Asami. “I have never been stopped on the street – maybe for that reason.” As with the West, once you are pigeonholed as a Queen of Kit-offery, your career choices are fundamentally reduced. “I don't know if I'll ever get to be a mainstream actress. Once you have done adult videos a big budget film is almost impossible to move into. There is a stigma about being a porno actress in Japan – it never goes away.”

For Asami, it was an old colleague in sex-cinema that provided her with a chance to move into other things. “I got my break from Noboru Iguchi with The Machine Girl,” continues Asami. “He had directed adult movies and when he got the chance to do a low budget horror film he wanted to work with people he knew and trusted. I was very lucky because he realised I was interested in playing more legitimate roles.”

When I meet Asami, she is wearing a large pair of glasses, her hair is pushed into a bunch and her clothing is baggy enough to impress even Shaun Ryder. “I don’t take the idea that I am supposed to be ‘sexy’ seriously,” laughs the actress. “I don’t walk out of the house looking like an adult video star in the morning – that would be ridiculous. The real Asami is very different. I am what you see." Asami reveals that when she first found out fans outside of Japan had seen her adult videos she was shocked. “I had no idea that people knew me in the West. Our adult videos seem to have a following outside of Japan and now I do conventions and autograph signings in Europe and America. But I don’t know how people find these films! I have no shame about adult videos. If I did not want to do these films I would not have done them.”

Now approaching 30, Asami might still be a spring chicken – but she realises it's time to plan for the future. “You can't do adult movies forever,” nods the actress. “If you can branch out to other low budget films, such as horror or action, then you need to grab that chance when you can.” I've done a lot of adult videos where I got a script – with lines and an interesting character. I actually had a chance to act in some of these movies. Some Japanese adult videos have interesting stories.

Now usually spending her time on set wielding a chain saw, firing a machine gun or portraying a vengeful femme fatale, Asami has experienced far more flying liquids in the horror movie world than in her robe-shedding sex flicks. “I have had to spend hours showering to get fake blood of my body,” says Asami. “Making horror movies has its own challenges. We call these movies, like RoboGeisha, ‘extreme films’ in Japan – and not without reason.” If Asami is anything to go by, the average Japanese adult star has no preconceptions of her idolatry status among the raincoat brigade. “Am I really a sex symbol?” questions the actress. “Up until now I never even thought of that. I guess if someone told me this I would just laugh. I cannot believe anyone would see me like that.”

Thanks to the Sitges Film Festival