These days, it seems like you cannot turn on the TV in Japan without seeing her. Her name is Mitsu Dan. She's currently Japan's biggest sex symbol, appearing in racy TV shows and even racier movies and photo spreads. But before rocketing to fame last fall, she was just another pin-up model, and her biggest role was in a PS3 exclusive. But she wasn't yet Mitsu Dan.
The game was Yakuza 4. And the current sex symbol was known as Shizuka Saitou. Then largely unknown, Saitou was part of the open casting call that ultimately landed her—and at that time, the far more famous porn star Rio—a role in the game as a hostess. It was a fitting gig for Saitou, who spent a chunk of her 20s working at a high-class hostess club in Tokyo's ritzy Ginza. After college, she studied to become a cook. Then, she got a mortician's license. Somewhere along the line, she started hostessing.
That fall of 2009, the then 29 year-old Saitou appeared at the Tokyo Game Show to promote Yakuza 4, posing for pictures next to the Japanese gangster emperor-style throne that TGS visitors could line up for to have their photos taken.
That following spring, she appeared in a weekly tabloid in her first pin-up. And by that fall, she was renamed "Mitsu Dan". But it wasn't until last fall that she started popping up everywhere. She appeared in the S&M-themed motion picture Watashi no Dorei ni Narinasai (私の奴隷になりなさい or "Be My Slave") as well as the S&M-themed late night TV drama Tokumei Tantei （匿名探偵 or "Anonymous Sleuth"). Dan then popped up a few times on variety shows and movie premieres, doing all sorts of scandalous things, whether that was wearing next to nothing or pouring honey down her underpants.
Dan is sexually charged, but that doesn't mean she's won over Japan's libido. Online, especially, there are many who say it's unsettling to see someone act like a porn star on primetime television or others who say Dan has confused being sexy with being vulgar. Dan's fans would say she is using sexuality as power.
Often with the Japanese entertainment industry, people play characters. And Mitsu Dan is either casting herself (or being cast) as the sexy one. Japanese variety shows often have celebrities play certain types, whether that's the cool one, the smart one, the airhead one, or the funny one. Mitsu Dan is now the sexy one. But the whole thing—the lewd public displays, the nude photos—could all be an act—a way to stand out and get attention. But this is make-believe. A world as virtual as any video game.
On a recent variety show, Dan showed off her apartment. It was a tiny apartment that hardly looked like a den of sin:
"This room isn't sexy at all," wrote one online commenter. "It's completely normal." And it probably is.