ARTMAG INTERVIEW

Written by: Brooken Larsen

Deep in the dark underground of Namba lies Oriental Bondage Bar Augone, a recently opened bondage bar that resembles a cavern... albeit a sexy and inviting one. Tonight the interior is dark save for the lights directed at the stage. Milla Reika stands there, but she is not still - her movements are quick and precise as first she binds and then suspends a woman from the ceiling using rope. Milla harnesses everything else within reach to elaborate the binding - the woman’s hair and clothes become entwined in rope and, when Milla notices a ceiling post behind her, she wraps more rope around it and uses it to lift and contort the model’s body further. When her partner is finally lifted from the ground she gasps in pain and Milla smiles - she always smiles at some point while tying. Loud, pounding music plays and Milla moves with it as she and her model become entwined in an intimate dance of bondage and pain.

The description above may sound like something out of a naughty novel, but for Milla it’s a just a normal night out on the town.

 

I approach Milla after the show to tell her how great it was by offering her a tip. Instead of taking the money, which I’ve foolishly stashed in my cleavage, she grins and, wordlessly, begins to tie me ​up. First, she binds my hands together with rope like I’ve been arrested by an old-time cop, then she strings the rope through a carabiner hanging from the ceiling; my hands, already feeling tingly, are hoisted above my head. Milla enjoys taking control (even the time and location of this interview were dictated by her), so I know better than to protest as I’m strung up from the ceiling like a butchered animal. I consider interviewing her as I’m hanging there, but then she puts one of the fake dollar bills in my mouth and can’t understand my muffled questions. Eventually I’m set free and we begin to talk, though it’s a minute or two before the pins and needles in my hands subside and I can take notes. Figurative pins and needles, that is - Milla keeps her stash of sharp objects at home.

 

Milla is known by many as a dominatrix and an intimidating figure in the Osaka SM scene, but she considers herself a ​kinbaku ​(“rope bondage”) performer and enthusiast. As someone who can seem so shrouded in malice and mystique, people are often afraid to approach her. This common first impression can be a problem. Milla wants to be approached by those interested in rope, especially because she is a teacher as well, but people often have a hard time separating the domineering performer from the quite chill and funny human being she actually is. This is confusing for Milla, who sees frequenting bondage bars and regularly tying up half naked people as ordinary. She has to remind herself that many people see bondgae as mysterious, risque and scary. What people don’t seem to understand at first is the consent, care, and intimacy involved.

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I ask Milla how she feels, having just finished a live performance. She lights a black cigarette, which she bought because they look cool when she smokes onstage, before answering. After tying there is a rush, she tells me, a high which takes time to come out of. Performing takes a lot of energy - not physical energy, like she just exercised, but she puts everything she’s got into

her performances. I myself thought the performance looked quite physical - although she had the assistance of carabiners and rope, Milla ​did lift a person off the ground by herself - but for Milla the post-performance exhaustion has more to do with the emotional toll it takes on her body.

Her performance tonight was improvised, I discover. The model (or “bottom”) and Milla (the “top”) have done shows together on and off for about two years, but only recently started working together more. Thus they are building a relationship, and Milla notes that because of this their “shows are becoming more real.” She aims to develop a rapport with all her models. Like any relationship, this takes time to build, but the result - a tangible connection - is worth it. “I don’t like acting,” she explains. Watching Milla and her partners perform onstage, there is an observable intimacy that must make the audience wonder, ​Am I allowed to watch this?

Usually Milla plays privately with the people she performs with, so she knows their limits and what they are capable of onstage. Kinbaku does belong to the BDSM scene, so once a bottom is safely suspended, the top often brings whips, candle wax, or other fun toys into the picture. Of course, all that depends on what the model wants and can handle. Every bottom’s desires and relationship with Milla is different, so every performance is unique as a result. But one thing they all have in common is the intimacy and sexual tension Milla works hard both on and offstage to create.

When she is planning for a live performance, Milla and her partners generally try to come up with a story. These stories are used as a vehicle to express a theme, usually related to how humans connect. The dynamics of how people relate is a big focus for Milla and she likes to go beyond what human relationships usually consist of by raising the stakes onstage. ​“I’m motivated by a desire to express the complexity human dynamics and love that I feel but cannot describe with words.” Instead, she tries to show how she feels by performing.

 

Milla is obviously the dominating figure onstage, but she acknowledges that there is a back and forth between top and bottom - the latter has some control, especially in improvised shows. The way their bodies move gives Milla feedback, and their reactions - sounds or facial expressions, for instance - stimulate and the audience.

 

Milla’s focus is always on her model during a show. She has to be very aware of their condition, not only so that she can respond to the bottom’s capabilities and desires, but also so she can make sure the bottom is safe (ropes can bind people in painful positions or cut off circulation if tied too tightly, for instance). She is only faintly aware of the audience during a performance. She admits she is selfish - she performs for herself and her partner, not the crowd. However, she does acknowledge their importance. “Their power influences me,” she says. She projects her own feelings to the audience and finds she often gets very satisfying reactions. People have laughed, cried, and even been horrified. Yet, people can feel the connection between top and bottom. Many have told her that the show opened up their eyes and showed then that there is

more to SM than the stereotype. It’s not always scary. Though, make no mistake, Milla can be conniving; she is always thinking of ways to torture her subjects. That’s what they want, after all.

 

Milla tells me that, while her work is beautiful and expressive, she doesn’t consider it art (I hurriedly beg her to take that back because this is an interview for an art magazine). She relents that it is artistic, as she strives to capture human complexity onstage, but she is motivated by desire as well - stringing scantily clad women (and men!) up in contorted positions as they shriek and moan is quite erotic. Milla loves that she is surrounded by sexy people all the time, and that touching women’s boobs and butts is part of her job.

 

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Every Thursday night Milla hosts a kinbaku workshop at ​Senkaku, her ​salon. Anyone is welcome to join, and while there is a regular crowd, beginners and first timers are encouraged to stop by. Most of the people who attend want to learn how to tie, but those who are interested in being bound (which can actually be quite enjoyable and relaxing, but usually requires flexibility) are free to join as well. After all, the people learning how to do tie need victims - er, I mean, ​partners ​- to practice on.

 

The atmosphere of the salon is relaxed and open. The attendees sit on a plush couch, eat snacks, and sip on oolong tea or cocktails. The conversation is a mix of English and Japanese - Milla is fluent in both. After a few minutes of post-work winding down, the workshop starts.

Milla often begins with a demonstration, but otherwise she moves around the room making drinks, lighting cigarettes, and patiently assisting with and explaining the complicated knots. Milla ties and unravels knots with lightning speed - essential, she tells one student, in case during play or a performance the model is in serious pain or there’s a sudden fire. She assures those learning that after they’ve had years of practice like she has, their movements will become second nature as well.

 

Milla got her start in late 2010 as a dominatrix at a bar called Matrix. While working there she started to learn kinbaku and, less than two years later, took over management of the bar. Sadly, the bar closed the following year, after which Milla spent time traveling the US, Australia, and Berlin doing shows before returning to Japan. She’s been running her own salon and teaching the art of rope bondage since 2014. Her vast array of experience both locally and internationally have made her a widely sought after performer and teacher.

 

Now Milla has quite a following and a number of regular customers, both at her weekly workshops and monthly fetish nights. I’m very impressed by how she’s achieved so much in the past six years, and I ask her how she did it. “Nothing comes easy,” she says. “It took a lot of putting myself out there, performing at events for free, connecting with people at various events and online. Japan and the SM scene, being so underground, is still all about word of mouth and face-to-face connections, so being active is imperative.”

 

Milla takes her craft very seriously. These days, she focuses almost exclusively on kinbaku. She fashions her own rope from jute, performs at or attends SM events almost every night of the week, and even has bondage related tattoos. It’s no wonder that to Milla this lifestyle is “normal.” She invites you to feel that way, too.

 

The community of SM lovers in Osaka is close knit, but not exclusive, and the members are friendly and welcoming. There are plenty of bars in the city and events are happening constantly. To learn more about the local BDSM scene, stay tuned for future ​issues of ART MAG, as we will be covering this scene in depth.