Down the years Sora Aoi has become a huge star in Asia thanks to films that leave very little to the imagination. Ironically, though, it is in China where she has become most well known—a country where she’s banned from appearing on TV because of her supposed “bad image” and where most of her material can’t officially be seen because pornography has been illegal there since 1949.
Of course large numbers have got around this and managed to get hold of her videos online, but even taking that into account the extent of her popularity there is still remarkable. She was voted number eight in a list of the most engaging international celebrities for Chinese people—ahead of Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway. She also has more than 15 million followers on the social networking site Sina Weibo and is Googled more often than Confucius, Mao Zedong and basketball player Yao Ming. So exactly how has she managed it?
“I’ve been trying to figure it out myself to be honest,” Aoi tells Weekender, laughing. “My Chinese level isn’t that high yet, so I just write simple everyday conversational things like what I’d been doing that day. I’ve heard that many Chinese celebrities on Sina Weibo keep their lives very private, not really showing their own personalities. I am just being me and people there seem to appreciate it. Maybe that’s the reason!”
Whatever she writes it seems to get attention. Her first message on Sina Weibo received over 32,000 comments and was shared around 48,000 times. More than 160,000 people responded when she wrote: “The friendship of the people of China and Japan” in 2012. Even a simple “good morning” or a tweet about what ice cream or cake she has eaten will usually generate thousands of responses. That may sound absurd, but netizens clearly love to interact with famous people.
Numerous big names from around the world have opened accounts on Sina Weibo in recent years, but in most cases they either post in English or just have a secretary use a translation service to get their messages across. Aoi makes an effort to interact with fans and that is why she has a much bigger following than the likes of Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Bill Gates.
“I didn’t set out to be a big star in China,” Aoi says. “When I started on Twitter I noticed that I had quite a lot of Chinese followers, so then with the launch of Sina Weibo I decided that would be a good way to get to know them better. My account attracted quite high numbers early on (22,000 on her first day), but I didn’t think much of it—I assumed it was just down to the country having such a large population. As it’s gone on, though, it has just gotten bigger and bigger. I now have over 15.4 million followers, which is pretty incredible.”
It has made me more determined to get better at Chinese; however, the advantage of not being fluent is that I can’t read the negative comments (laughs). It has proved a great market for me; you see many Japanese celebrities going out to places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, but few attempt to make it in mainland China. I go there a few times a year—sometimes for business, at other times to study at a language school. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not able to speak about deep topics or anything but I am improving. It is always enjoyable to meet Chinese fans; they are much more enthusiastic than the ones I meet in Japan—I guess it is because they don’t know when they will have a chance to see me again.”
Jokingly referred to as the enlightened “Cang Laoshi” (Teacher Cang)—for helping to educate young people about sex in what is seen as a relatively sexually repressed country where many schools and parents were too embarrassed to give children sex education until the early twenty first century—Aoi’s popularity in China increased further in 2010 when she used her Twitter account to help raise funds for victims of the Yushu earthquake. Since then, public appearances by the Japanese star have created a buzz of excitement usually only afforded to A-list celebrities.
At the Nanchang International Festival in 2011 she was on stage for just three minutes before officials had to call a halt to proceedings due to concerns for the safety of the overzealous crowd. There are also many pictures of her with prominent Chinese figures such as Lei Jun—founder of one of the country’s largest technology companies, Xiaomi Inc., and the man commonly referred to as the “Steve Jobs” of China.
Even the decision by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to effectively blacklist her because of her erotic videos has done little to dampen the fervor—if anything it has actually helped enhance her status there. The ruling led to a number of light-hearted protests in her honor such as the one at a football game in Guangzhou, where there was a banner that read “Daiyo (Senkaku) belongs to China and Aoi Sola belongs to the world.” Even at a time when anti-Japanese sentiment was allegedly at its strongest in mainland China, Aoi’s stock was rising.
She has arguably become one of Japan’s most successful exports in Southeast Asia. Along with China, she also has a large following in countries like Indonesia, Korea and Thailand. She will always be known more for her porn films, which she continues to star in, than anything else, but she has made a big effort to establish herself as a mainstream entertainer in the region and has recently appeared in a number of foreign films.
In one of her most recent roles as Kaya in the Thai comedy flick “I Fine… Thank You…Love You”, she plays a young girl who leaves Thailand and her boyfriend behind to work in America. The main character, Gym, attempts to learn English so he can join his ex in the States and win her back. The movie has proved a massive box-office hit, grossing just under $900,000 on its opening day—the second highest ever for a Thai movie.
“It was such a fun film to be involved in,” she tells us. “I seem to get chosen for horrors more than anything else, so it was great to be able to do a comedy. I first started acting thirteen years ago; it wasn’t something I dreamed about doing as a kid or anything, I just thought it was something that would be interesting to try and that it is exactly what it has proved to be.
“It has given me the opportunity to go to some amazing places and meet all kinds of people. I’ve learned a lot along the way and feel I have improved as an actress as I’ve gotten older. My biggest strength is probably how I cry; however, I still need to work on quite a few things. I find it particularly difficult not to laugh when another actor says something funny.”
Aoi probably won’t be winning an Oscar anytime soon, but does deserve credit for the way she has tried to reinvent herself in recent times. There are no doubt many people in the porn industry who dream of becoming mainstream celebrities, but it rarely happens. Aoi has not only made it happen, she has taken it to another level.
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