[Warning: this article contains explicit content]

French-born porn star Axel Abysse typically blends in when in Japan. He keeps his undercut shaved and his beard trimmed. He wears sports tank tops and shorts to fight the summer heat. Only his large cartilage piercings hint at a more alternative lifestyle.

“My porn’s distributed in the overseas market,” says Axel. “So, I get recognized all the time there, especially in gay districts. But in Japan it’s pretty rare.

“Once I was at Narita Airport and this huge guy was staring at me. I got really nervous, thinking he wanted to fight. But then he came over and said, ‘I love your videos—but don’t tell my wife.’”

Gay AV in Japan

Axel Abysse
Photo by Uto

Japan’s own Yoshi Kawasaki, on the other hand, I can recognize from down the street. He arrives at the restaurant late. He’s sweaty and red-faced, fresh from the gym. While Axel is styled conservatively, Yoshi’s skin is a tapestry of ink. He also wears gauges and a nose ring.

“Sorry, sorry. So sorry I’m late,” Yoshi says, hugging us. “Did you already order?”

“I’m getting fried chicken and waffles,” I say.

“I’m also getting fried chicken and waffles,” Axel says.

“Today we’re going to be completely disgusting.”

gay AV Yoshi

Yoshi Kawasaki
Photo by Cho Byeong-Uk, for Trailer Zine

The Fringe of the Gay Scene

Axel and Yoshi are both award-winning porn producers and actors, catering to millions around the globe. The two are friends, coworkers and costars. And their parallel careers have strongly influenced one another.

In particular, the two gained notoriety for exploring the fringe of the gay porn industry. Yoshi, who began his career in 2013, is known for dabbling in a bit of everything. Inspired by the works of Gengoroh Tagame, an erotic male-male romance artist, Yoshi’s content explores a wide range. He also enjoys transgressing traditional gender boundaries in his own way.

“I build my muscles up to look very masculine,” he says. “But in films I like to take on more of a woman’s role. I make my voice cute and effeminate. It’s fun to mash those two images together—no one expects it. I guess because I was always an outcast gay kid, I want to see things that don’t answer to the norm.”

gay AV Yoshi

Photo by Kii Chan

Axel, who entered the industry in 2014, developed his niche in an extreme genre called ‘fisting’—extreme because fisting can be high risk if performed improperly. Axel, however, teaches safe, healthy and drug-free techniques for his audience, aware that many want to imitate what they see in porn. He, like Yoshi, revolutionized the character roles audiences were used to seeing in their entertainment.

“After graduating film school, I would film myself purely to practice editing. I never intended to make it my career,” he says. After uploading some videos, he became an overnight hit. Few people participated in the fisting genre back then and most were large macho types. “I was one of the only twinks (boyish young gay men) fisting. People had never seen anything like it before and it was a new experience for them.”

Social Activism in Porn

Like the mainstream film industry, adult entertainment varies greatly by studio and country. Some studios exploit their actors, while others are respectful. As indie porn producers, Axel and Yoshi have more freedom than most when it comes to determining the objective and agenda of their films.

“American porn is very Hollywood choreographed,” Axel explains. Actors are often halted mid-way through, moved and reposed. By contrast, “I try to make my videos as natural as possible and a trusting experience for all people on set. As a result, it doesn’t always look glamorous.”

“Axel’s face looks really funny,” Yoshi interrupts, pulling a lopsided expression.

“Yeah, sometimes it looks like that. Sex is rarely pretty. It shows on your face. My audience wants that realness.”

As indie producers, the two challenge the norms of mainstream porn studios. The industry can be an incredibly discriminatory place. As a purely profit-driven market, inequalities and stereotypes within the gay communities are distilled and laid out in the open.

Photo by Saimon for Cursed photobook

Photo by Saimon for Cursed photobook

Axel recalls the European AV industry when he and Yoshi joined: “There was a lot of white supremacy. Character roles—like twink and dom—were very rigid and based on race and body type. A lot of studios wouldn’t hire non-white actors because they only wanted to feature twinks. And they had to be thin, cisgender white male twinks.”

“I was one of the only major Japanese porn models,” adds Yoshi.

“It was rare to see Asians at all and some places wouldn’t hire me. Asian men were not seen as sexual in the popular studios of the time.”

While still badly segregated, Europe’s industry has evolved little by little, thanks in part to indie producers forcing greater representation in successful gay porn.

Films by Axel and Yoshi feature actors of all races, body types, sexes, and genders, a point of which they are proud.

Porn and Sexual Identity

Axel says, “I’m white, cis and have all the privilege, so inclusivity is important for my work. There’s a cycle of racism. People only think they want what they’re used to. Mainstream studios just want profit, so they cater to that. But it should be our job to force more representation. We need to change people’s minds and make them more open to diversity.”

The comment sections and forums of porn sites are also where people often express their prejudices openly. This, however, presents a unique opportunity to confront them. Axel and Yoshi both experienced a great deal of biphobic and transphobic bashing after filming with genderfluid dominatrix Mistress Kinako.

“We had comments accusing us of being ‘gay for pay,’” Axel says. “I mean, if I had to define myself, I’m probably more pansexual. But I didn’t stop being queer because I made a video with Kinako.”

Photo by Cho Byeong-uk for Trailer Zine.
feat Kosmic Sans, Axel’s spouse

“I’m pretty much just gay,” says Yoshi. “For me it’s work. It’s just playing a role and I’m open to working with lots of different people. But whenever we film with a trans person or anyone who’s not a man, there’s going to be some complaints. Especially in Japan, definitions and ideas of being ‘real gay’ are very rigid. But that’s why I’m glad we push back and we challenge people in the comments.”

While often a taboo topic, sex is a fundamental part of human society and of most people’s lives.

Though a tall order given the current practices in the adult video entertainment world, introducing greater diversity and challenging stereotypical character roles could be a top-down (or perhaps bottom-up) way of fighting social inequality.

Axel says, “I’m convinced porn influences the whole of society, more than just the gay community. Race, trans issues, biphobia. If we become more progressive with our porn, we could get people to discover new things and become more curious and open-minded about the world.”

Photo by Kii Chan

Photo by Kii Chan

Porn as Art and Capitalism

I ask perhaps the most famous question in porn: can it be art? The two come down hard on opposing sides.

“Absolutely not,” Yoshi says, making Axel cackle. “For me it’s not art. I want to sell my material and that’s it. It’s just consumable and capitalistic. I don’t like the word ‘art’ to begin with. It’s snobby.”

“I disagree!” Axel exclaims. “I think it’s absolutely art. I think all porn is art. Everything made by humans is art. Take this furniture. This table. This menu. Maybe they’re mass-produced, but someone designed these things once. For that person, it was art. It might not be good art, or something in a museum. But it’s art.”

“You’re too liberal with the word,” says Yoshi. “It’s because you went to film school.”

“Art is taking something from your mind and creating it,” Axels says. “It doesn’t have to be beautiful, just causing an emotion, making you react. When I make porn, I care about colors, lighting, editing, background and sounds. I want to create a mood.”

Yoshi relents. “I see Axel’s as closer to art, because he has a story and an idea he wants to convey. Some porn can be art. But I think some are just a platform for physical pleasure and for selling something. But to be true art… maybe it has to be French.” He laughs.

The S Word

What frustrates Axel and Yoshi most of all is the taboo of sex—the inability of mainstream people to have frank discussions about their bodies and desires.

“Sometimes it takes porn for people to talk about these things, but overall, I wish people could explore their relationship with sex without judgement and live without frustration,” Axel says. “Sex is a fundamental part of human nature—the way we were all conceived. If we have a healthy relationship with sex and with our bodies, we can build better trust with others.”

“I want people to be less scared,” Yoshi agrees. “There’s so much stigma around fetish culture, sex workers and the porn industry. But we’re just normal people (mostly). I want people to open their minds.”

Axel nods. “We see sex as something sacrilegious and that’s unhealthy.”

Featured photo by Saimon for Cursed photobook

Read more from our Queer Japan series:

An Interview with the Vogue Artists of Japan

A Quick History of Japan’s LGBTQ Icons

Blending Borders with Makeup Artist Pepe Paladini