An AV idol (adult video idol; AV actress (AV女優 Ēbui joyū?)) is a Japanese idol who works in the pornographic business, often both as an actress as well as a model as the video performances have a wide range, from just the idol strolling around their house doing chores in bikinis to hardcore porn. Since the dawn of the AV industry in the early 1980s, hundreds of AV idols have debuted every year, with an average career span of about a year, appearing in five or ten videos during that time. Notable AV idols have careers spanning several years, have a high general public recognition, or make a significant impact on the industry in some other manner.
The line between "adult" and "family" entertainment in Japan is not as clear-cut as it is in some other countries. A celebrity may appear in AVs after already having established a career in mainstream television. Also, it is not rare for a popular AV actress to go on to mainstream celebrity. Fornander reports that "a background in porn is not necessarily a skeleton in the cupboard anymore. In some cases, it’s a career move."
The AV, or "Adult Video" market is a major industry in Japan, reportedly worth about ¥400 billion ($4 billion) per year. In 1992, it was reported that over 11 AVs were being made every day by over 70 production companies in Tokyo alone. The AV market was estimated to make up about 30 percent of Japan's video rentals. It was estimated in 1994 that, between legal and illegal videos, around 14,000 AVs a year were being made in the country, in contrast to about 2,500 in the United States. In an English language interview in 2011, AV idol Azusa Maki estimated that as many as 10,000 girls attempt to get into the Japanese AV industry each year.
AV performers were often struggling actresses who could not find work in the theatrical Roman Porno films and girls from the soaplands. AV star Kaoru Kuroki has been credited with raising the status of AV idols in the public's eye. According to Rosemary Iwamura, "she didn't seem to be making videos because of a lack of options but rather as an informed choice."
AV actresses are usually recruited by scouts in Tokyo neighborhoods such as Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya. These scouts are affiliated with talent agencies who then hire the actresses to the AV production companies. Some women wishing to appear in AVs apply to the production companies, but they are usually referred to the talent agencies. The production companies are typically charged ¥1.5 million (US$15,000) or more for an actress to appear in a video. AV actresses make between ¥200,000 and 4 million yen per video. Steve Scott, president of Third World Media, an importer of Japanese adult movies to the United States, estimated a top-tier AV star could make up to nearly ¥36 million for an eight picture deal.
AV fans are invited to follow the progress of a prominent AV actress' career over several video appearances. In her AV debut video, the actress is introduced as a "new face," and her inexperience is played up in interviews preceding the modeling and sex scenes. Following this debut video, the AV audience follows the actress' journey through sexual awakening, and her eventual specialization, after about five AV appearances, in a specific genre such as lesbianism or SM. Once the actress has established herself as a mature AV star, she has the options of continuing into some of the more outrageous AV genres, retiring, or, sometimes, re-emerging under a new name as a "new face."
Bornoff identifies some Japanese AV stereotypes as, "the prim Office Lady, the virgin-next-door, the randy farm girl, the leotarded aerobics enthusiast, the sexy predator in the hot-spring resort and, last but not least, the self-assertive slut who is put in her place by being gang-banged on the floor of the cutting room." Also, noted AV director "Tarzan" Yagi says that a successful AV actress should fit into an easily identifiable type which, "can be identified at a glance, making it easier for viewers to recognize the type they prefer." Yagi mentions, "the 'slender' type, 'Lolita' type, 'buxom' type and so on."
Some major AV types include:
While a few early AV idols such as Kyoko Nakamura and Eri Kikuchi made their careers off their large busts, Noriyuki Adachi singles Kimiko Matsuzaka's 1989 debut as the point at which the "Big Bust Boom" (巨乳ブーム - Kyonyu Boom) was set on fire. In the years following Matsuzaka's debut, the AV world was never without another major big-bust AV idol, including Hitomi Tanaka, Miki Sawaguchi, Mariko Morikawa, Rin Aoki, and Anna Ohura. By the mid-1990s, the Big Bust genre had become a staple of the AV industry.
The vast majority of AV actresses make their debuts in their late teens. However, in the mid-1990s, a trend for "mature women" models in AVs became evident. While youthful debuts would still remain the norm, this broadening in tastes would pave the way for the debuts of future "mature" AV stars like Aki Tomosaki in 2000, Asuka Yūki in 2005 and Maki Tomoda in 2006, all of whom had passed their 30th birthdays at the time of their debuts. These older actresses became popular in AVs with an incest theme.
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