Marica Hase on Sex, Culture, and Surviving Breast Cancer
Marica Hase (Picture Credit: Marica Hase)
Marica Hase peers at me from my computer screen. She sits cross-legged on her bedroom floor. The room behind her looks cozy, a cat prances happily on her bedside table. She smiles and waves at me cheerfully. She is fully-clothed.
Some of you might be unaccustomed to seeing Marica Hase this way (you know who you are). More people are used to seeing her naked. And having sex with a man. Or two. Or more. Or a woman. Or both. This is because she is primarily known as a porn star. More specifically, she is one of the few Japanese porn stars to have gained major popularity in the West.
I start with the obvious question: Why did she decide to become a porn actress?
“I wanted to be creative in front of a camera,” she answers simply. “This is what I love the most in life. I started as a mainstream model and actress. And I just loved being in front of the camera, so adult movies offer me plenty of opportunities to do so.”
“I just loved being in front of the camera, so adult movies offer me plenty of opportunities to do so.”
Hase, who grew up in Tokyo, began as a “gravure idol” (a kind of model who primarily appears in men’s magazines), and also acted in some comedies before going into porn. Strikingly, she doesn’t seem to regard her transition to porn as particularly significant – she just likes being on camera, and saw no reason why starring in porn shoots was different from starring in those other kinds of shoots.
“Pornography is creative,” she says. “I like being a character. I can be a different character every day. And this is fun. I love action, I love to play scenarios, and I love to tease. I often give ideas for scenarios too.”
In 2012, she decided to move to the United States to, in her words, “try to become the biggest porn star in the world.” She made a lot of progress in a short time, and, in January 2013, she became the first Japanese model to be featured as Penthouse’s Pet of the Month, which in the adult entertainment industry is pretty much the equivalent of appearing on the cover of Time magazine. “I was not aware at the time of how big Penthouse is,” she tells me, “everyone congratulated me for it but I did not know why! Now of course I am very proud I was selected by such a large media.”
A major reason Hase is one of the few Japanese porn stars to have broken into the Western market is probably because her manner is unlike that of her typical Japanese peers. The typical Japanese adult video actress is demure, she usually seems reluctant to have sex, and when she does, often protests against it, begs her partner to stop, or emits a series of high-pitched cries that makes it seem like she’s in pain. According to former Japanese porn star Emiri Okazaki, this is because the popular image of a Japanese woman is someone who finds sex embarrassing, and some find the embarrassment itself erotic. By contrast, on screen, Hase seems eager to engage in sex, and actually looks like she’s enjoying it.
Speaking on this cultural difference, Hase says: “Japanese people find shyness and quietness sexy. In America, what arouses people is a more aggressive attitude coming from the woman. In Japan, we think being embarrassed is hot! I’m actually very Japanese in that regard, but if the man is going forward, I’ll go forward too. It depends who I fuck! It’s like a conversation.” Hase says the liberal and individualistic culture in the US gives her more avenues to express herself creatively. “What I like the most about America is how crazy you can be,” she tells me. “In Japan, being different is often seen as madness. In America, everyone is different! You can have your own personality!”
Picture Credit: Marica Hase
Throughout the interview, Hase repeatedly disparages her English language skills, though she speaks quite well, and our entire conversation is conducted in English. Though she claims to be shy, she doesn’t seem shy at all when talking about sex, in fact, as she warms to her subject, she becomes very animated, gesticulating excitedly with her hands, even if she sometimes has to pause a moment to think of the right English word for what she’s trying to say. Her demeanor is often child-like, but not in a contrived kind of way – more like someone whose entire life is about being playful and happy.
What are some misconceptions about porn actresses? “People are often mistaken as to what a porn actress actually likes,” she said. “I am often told I like black men but I don’t have any preference, there are just lots of movies with interracial sex nowadays. I am also often told I prefer bigger cocks but it’s just what you see in pornography, my preference lies in the personality of the man. I also tend to prefer being sexually submissive, although dominating is fun too. But being submissive, for me, is both fun and pleasurable.”
There is a hardness to her, though, beneath it all. Perhaps this should be expected – no one can fuck for a job without having a thick skin. For one, she has little illusions about her industry. “Once you appear in porn, you will be discriminated against in many occasions,” she once said in another interview. “If you want an easy job, you are better off staying away from porn, however, if you have guts and want to give it all you got with your head held high, it can turn out to be a hundred times more rewarding than doing normal work.”
Picture Credit: Marica Hase
And, when I try to ask about her personal life, I hit a brick wall. She is incredibly secretive about her personal relationships with other people in the industry, and refused to answer even seemingly innocuous questions about people she’s worked with in the past: her demeanor suddenly becoming implacable and businesslike. It’s curious: in many ways, someone like her has bared all, revealed the most intimate parts of herself to the world, and yet, in this respect, at least, she is a closed book. Or perhaps it isn’t so curious after all, perhaps for porn stars, people who have sex with strangers in front of strangers for the consumption of strangers for a living, certain boundaries and a certain degree of privacy are all the more important.
She is, however, happy to talk about her parents. “My family is very supportive of my career,” she says, “my father even came to visit me at one of my autograph sessions. I remember, I was expecting him and he was not showing up, so I was afraid he decided not to come. In fact, he was waiting in the line! My family are very open-minded people and were on my side from the start. Before I moved on from modelling to pornography, the agency came to discuss with my parents and advise them of my career’s direction: we did not want my parents to learn about my choice of career by seeing pictures!”
In 2018, at the age of 36, Marica Hase was diagnosed with breast cancer. Such a diagnosis would be terrifying for any woman, but it is especially so for a porn star, whose career depends on her feminine attributes. “The moment I was told I had cancer, I was not sure I understood the doctor correctly,” Hase recounts with a laugh. “My English is still poor, so I went ‘What did you say doctor? You said I don’t have cancer, right? Not that I have cancer?’ I was hoping maybe I just misunderstood him!”
Hase was then faced with a difficult choice on what treatment to undergo. “My advice to people with cancer is: decide what’s your biggest goal, because you will have a lot of difficult choices to do,” she says. “Often a doctor or surgeon will give you options for your treatment and you will have to make a decision fast. Having your own goal greatly helps you having a clear mind and deal with this. My goal was to go back to the work I love. So, for example, when I was asked if I wanted a painful treatment that leaves no traces, or a softer treatment that leaves a scar, I opted for the first one because having a body fit for work was my goal.”
In the end, Hase decided on a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and had to spend a long time recovering. “[W]ith cancer, the saddest thing for me was not being able to work,” she says.
“[W]ith cancer, the saddest thing for me was not being able to work.”
What’s interesting is the amount of support she received during that time, both from other people in the porn industry and from her many fans. A common stereotype of porn consumers is that they lack concern for the performers and dehumanize them. But rather than seeing her as disposable and moving on to the next actress, many of her fans were genuinely touched by her plight. “The most touching message I received was fans telling me they would wait for me,” she says, “this meant a lot. In fact, all my friends in the adult movie industry said the same: we will wait for you! This went straight to my heart.” Since her social security didn’t cover the costs of her operation, Hase organized a fundraiser, and fans donated over $50,000 to cover her surgery.
Hase at the City of Hope hospital in southern California after her mastectomy (Picture Credit: Marica Hase)
Since beating her cancer, Hase has joined Pink Ribbon, a nonprofit that supports breast cancer survivors, as an advisor. Though she’s still taking cancer medication, Hase has gone back to work – and, from her recent videos, her ordeal seems to have diminished neither her appearance nor her enthusiasm.
Marica Hase is a strange mixture of pliability and determination, of softness and hardness. And that’s probably why she’s so good at her job.