By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
Jade-Blue Eclipse seemed to have done it all on the illicit and shadowy side of life. Sex work. Stripping. Acting in adult films. Cabaret and bondage-a-go-go. Performing in fetish clubs. Erotic contortion and acrobatic work.
She even opened her own crime-scene cleaning business.
But Jade recently took on a new mysterious role: international fugitive.
Her arrest this past August, which sent her into hiding, was only the latest struggle the performer has had in a lengthy fight to stay in the United States.
Jade had been living in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant since she moved here with her mother from Japan more than two decades ago. She was abandoned as a teenager. After years of frustration, and failed attempts to get a "green card," Jade lied on her U.S. passport application by using the identity of a deceased American.
A special agent with the U.S. Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service spotted inconsistencies in Jade's paperwork early last year and located her online. After setting up a meeting in a cafe, the feds swooped in, handcuffed her, and took her to jail.
Jade's bust comes at a time when the Diplomatic Security Service has launched an aggressive campaign against passport fraud, a felony it says can be linked to forged credit cards, drug trafficking, and even terrorism.
But is this former sex worker and well-known San Francisco performance artist really a serious threat to national security?
That question may never be answered in court. Jade has no interest in spending time in prison, so last month she broke the law again. The nimble contortionist slipped out of the country and set off for a spiritual journey to the Amazon.
"So I felt compelled to not engage in this game anymore," Jade wrote in a Jan. 2 e-mail from South America. "I have better things to do with my time."
Her first name is not Jade-Blue, but Takako. Most people know her as Jade-Blue Eclipse, Jadeblue Lotos, or simply Jade.
She was only 8 years old when her mother brought her and her brother from Nagasaki to San Jose. Her mom started working in her sister's beauty salon, with the promise that the aunt would help her get a green card. But the aunt did nothing to help the family gain legal status. Jade's brother had a lot of health problems and the family never seemed to have enough money. After five years of waiting, with no green card in sight, her mom decided to move back to Japan.
Jade, 13, stayed behind.
She played violin on the street and drifted around the Bay Area, staying with women she'd befriended. It wasn't easy, but Jade thinks Japan would have been a hard place for her to grow up, too, because she always struggled to fit into the mainstream. She used to think she was a cat, and she'd collect dead animals trying to bring them back to life. "I was such a weird kid to begin with," she said. "In Japan, it's even worse."
By the time she was 16 years old, Jade had settled into San Francisco and joined the city's sex work industry. She says it was the only job that would pay her enough money to get by and she could do it without proper identification. Jade didn't keep track of how much money she made doing "all kinds of sex work," but she says she loved her work.
"It's amazing to be able to share something profound and sacred with people," she said in a recent e-mail. For Jade, sex work was about more than just sex. For her, it was a way to offer men deep healing and love. "For the most part, I usually ended up being with guys that really loved me and wanted to be around me." Her pride in her work may explain why she's always been open about how she made a living. "She's danced for money," a 1999 article about Jade in the Webzine GettingIt.com reads. "Fucked for it, too." Despite her profession, she identified as a lesbian for years.
Jade acknowledges that being left to fend for herself at such an early age shaped her life and personality. But she refuses to see herself as a victim. "It's easy for my story to be sad. Like, 'Oh, I was forced into prostitution,'" she said. "But to find the beauty in life, in living in joy I feel that is very much my service." The word "forced" is not a word Jade uses to describe her life. She talks more about doing what feels natural to her at the time.
When Jade started dancing, she found that she most enjoyed stripping in San Francisco's seedier establishments. "I like the sleazy, dirty ones," she said. "They're the most fun."
It was in one of those clubs that she met prolific porn director and writer David Aaron Clark, who became one of her best friends and a frequent collaborator. Clark has gone on to specialize in adult films featuring Asian women, but was then an editor and writer for the now-defunct Spectator magazine. He was on assignment patrolling San Francisco's various strip clubs for the magazine when he first saw Jade. "I can tell you the specific moment," Clark said. "She's one of those people that you always remember the moment you met them."
Clark had just walked into a small downtown club for the first time when he spotted the performer Jade-Blue Eclipse, then 19, up on the pole. Her hair was spiky and blue, and she was wearing dramatic makeup. She wasn't naked, but was wearing a long black gown, which was more like a gothy cape. Jade was at a perfect 90-degree angle to the pole holding a long dagger in her hand. "She was performing to industrial music, which was rare," Clark said. "And I thought, 'Wow, this is a lot better than I would expect to see walking into a place like this!'"
The two quickly became best friends. They started performing together in what Clark describes as "kind of avant-garde, blood ritual, typical bondage-a-go-go" performance pieces. When Clark made his first adult film, a soft-core film named Asianatrix: Suffering Eternal, Jade was the original star. She also appeared in his other soft-core work, Queen of Pain: Mistress Shane and the unreleased Salome 2000.
Jade offers no apologies that she's had sex on camera for the world to see, and says she's grateful that adult film gave her the chance to share herself in "the most intimate way." Nor does she judge men who have a fetish for Asian women. She says she believes there's a difference between play and real life, that the world would be a better place if more people could express their sexual fantasies in a safe space where nobody gets hurt. "With sexuality and fantasies, I think whatever flies is whatever flies," she said.
She appeared in nine of Clark's films altogether, including Diary of a Mad Porn Director. They both also appeared in a porn comedy titled Kung Fu Girls featuring Jade as the Evil Ninja Queen who is out to take over the world. But first she must defeat Chow Down Soon's Kung Fu Academy. Jade stands out in that video as the only actress who demonstrates martial arts skills. And Kung Fu Girls is so bad that even the Evil Ninja Queen herself seems on the brink of laughing over her lines.
Both Jade and Clark seem far more at home in his own creations, such as the 2003 video Asia Noir 3. In it she appears as "The Judge," a vision of a doctor working in an asylum a kind-of fragmented identity of a patient he is trying to treat. She wakes up in a padded room wearing lace-up knee-high black stiletto boots, a long black hooded cape, stage makeup, and little else. Jade-Blue does a seductive lap dance before the two have sex in various places around his office, and then she apparently kills him, splattering his blood on his exam room wall. At one point in the video, she walks through a hallway clouded with smoke before appearing at the doctor's desk with her body in mid-air, balanced on one hand.
Living under the shadow of being an undocumented immigrant kept catching up to her. Jade had to fill out paperwork when applying for jobs, whether it was to work as a porn actress or bike messenger, which inevitably led to being asked if she was a citizen. Jade would say that she was, and the paper trail against her grew.
There's no better example of Jade's immigration woes stifling her chances to go legit than her acrobatics and contortion career.
She started training with a renowned acrobatics instructor named Lu Yi at San Francisco's Circus Center. At 23, an age when many acrobats have been practicing for years, Jade was untrained and yet mastered dozens of new maneuvers with incredible flexibility and drive. By practicing up to eight hours a day, every day, Jade learned to balance on her hands, do back handsprings, and twist her body in all kinds of new ways. Her drive to train became all-consuming, one she likens to a burning desire, a curse, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Video footage of Jade training with Lu Yi from the spring of 2003 reveals her impressive focus on and dedication to perfecting tricks and pleasing her teacher. She flipped her body into one back handspring after another as Lu Yi offered encouragement and guidance. He then led her over to a wooden bench she used to practice contortion and hand-balancing routines. Jade raised herself into a perfect handstand, then spread her legs like scissors one in front, one in back. Next she twisted herself into countless complicated positions, usually while balancing on one hand. Around her new mentor she seemed shy, timid, and eager for Lu Yi's approval. She looked down often and said "Thank you, sir" when he offered his assistance on her contortion routine.
After practice that day, Jade praised acrobatics for teaching her about discipline, hard work, and persistence. She admitted in the video that training at the Circus Center wasn't easy for her, especially at first. When she first met Lu Yi, she hated him and thought he was an old-school and closed-minded teacher. Then she started training and found herself wanting to follow him around all day. "I really needed, I think, a good male figure in my life to take care of me," Jade said. "And he fulfilled that."
While training with Lu Yi, Jade got what many acrobats would consider to be their big break. Cirque du Soleil wanted to hire her for Zumanity, its Las Vegas show devoted to eroticism, acrobatics, and sensuality. But it required months of training in Canada. Being an undocumented immigrant, which helped drive her mother out of the country more than a decade before, now kept Jade from leaving to launch a new career.
It wasn't that Jade hadn't tried to get a green card. She'd spoken to many immigration lawyers, but they told her she had too many records on file where she'd already claimed to be a citizen.
Cirque du Soleil considered getting involved to help her obtain legal status, but ultimately decided it would be too risky. Jade says they were also worried her paperwork wouldn't arrive in time for the debut of the show.
Her friends always knew she didn't have legal status, but it was at about this time that they started to witness how much it was affecting her. "I found it heartbreaking," David Aaron Clark said. "When Cirque du Soleil announced they were going to do the erotic show, she bounced through the audition. I thought, wow, she's going to have a platform now."
Jade has since decided that being denied a chance to join Cirque was for the best. She thinks that doing the same show night after night, week after week, might have driven her crazy. And she didn't just want to be known as "The Contortionist" forever.
But her undocumented status kept coming up. "Unkle" Paul Nathan, host of the Exotic Erotic Ball and owner of San Francisco's annual magic-inspired carnival Dark Kabaret, considers Jade a world-class performance artist among the thousands of people he's seen perform. He repeatedly tried to hire her for shows in Europe, but Jade was always worried that if she left the country, she wouldn't be able to come back.
Lu Yi made countless calls regarding employment on Jade's behalf, but immigration issues always seemed to get in the way. Jade stopped training with him about two years ago. "I realized I was getting older, and I pretty much did all the tricks that I said I wanted to do. I knew that it wasn't sustainable for my body and, um, I wanted something bigger than that. Me and my wants!"
Jade had studied healing arts including Chi Nei Tsang, a Taoist form of internal organs touch therapy. But she didn't want to become a practitioner because she found living people could be "a lot harder to deal with energetically," whereas "once they're dead it's kind of a done deal." So she decided to open a business specializing in cleaning up after crimes like murders and suicides, which she named Novo Response Inc. Jade tried to do things the right way, and, as required by law, became a registered trauma scene management practitioner with the State of California's Department of Health Services. She tried to be as meticulous as possible decontaminating crime scenes so that people could "get on with their funeral."
Around the time she started setting up her business, she also applied for and received a U.S. passport. She did so using the name and Social Security number of a person born in Hawaii who had died of heart failure as an infant at Stanford Hospital in 1979. Jade doesn't offer details about how she got the Social Security number, or how she learned to go about committing passport fraud. It helped her set up a legitimate business, and it also helped her function in society in general. Newer laws on proper identification cards had made things more difficult for her, and she'd lost her Japanese passport and could no longer prove that she was from Japan. She hadn't been able to renew her driver's license and things had "just got waaaay complicated."
Then things got even more complicated.
In 2005, about a year after Jade-Blue applied for her passport, the U.S. Government Accountability Office submitted a report to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs stating that the passport system is open to fraud, that it facilitates other crimes such as drug trafficking and human smuggling, and could be used to support terrorism.
The Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) has for years provided protection for U.S. foreign policy officials, working both abroad and protecting foreign dignitaries visiting the U.S. It also works to capture fugitives who've fled the country.
But now DSS is increasingly spending its resources conducting criminal investigations into passport and visa fraud.
Early last year, DSS Special Agent Jeffrey Dubsick found that a person purporting to be named Catherine Izuo submitted an application for a U.S. passport in San Francisco. The application listed Izuo's occupation as "Acrobat." There were several clues that something was amiss. For example, Dubsick found a copy of a 1979 death certificate for Izuo, and found that the person who applied had submitted to have her name changed to "Jadeblue Lotos" but listed her e-mail address as firstname.lastname@example.org. He quickly found that the photograph she submitted for the passport was of the same person on her Web site, and also found her old mug shot from a 1999 arrest, according to his affidavit.
That affidavit refers to Jade using her legal name as well as Catherine Izuo, Jadeblue Eclipse, and Jadeblue Lotos.
Jade had just moved into a new apartment when she got a strong feeling that somebody was looking for her, so she decided to stay with a friend. That's when she got the voice mail. The State Department wanted to speak to her immediately. She picked the meeting at a cafe in Whole Foods Market on California Street because it was "the funniest place" she could think of for a meeting with federal agents.
Jade was handcuffed and taken in. She remembers spending the night in a holding cell, lying on a metal bench under glaring bright lights. When she went to court, she pled guilty to charges of possession of a false United States identification document, a misdemeanor. Jade posted bail, and was placed on pretrial release before her Jan. 11 sentencing hearing.
It could have been worse. If she hadn't pled guilty, she could have faced more serious charges. Another dancer caught in January 2006 with a U.S. passport issued in the name of a deceased American told authorities that she paid Jade $12,500 to help her get a birth certificate and California identification card. Jade even drove her to the Department of Motor Vehicles and showed her how to apply for a passport, according to court documents. Special Agent Dubsick says the investigation uncovered "additional sales of birth certificates which were not charged or mentioned in court records." She offers no apologies for committing the crime. Jade says she did what she needed to do to get by, that using the Social Security number of a deceased child is more ethical than, say, getting married simply in order to stay in the country.
Jade says she tried not to "disturb anyone or anything" in the process. "I tried my best to contribute to this society as best I could and not be anybody's problem," she said. "You know, I made sure that nobody had to take care of me. Not your tax money, not anybody's."
The Diplomatic Security Service and Department of Homeland Security feel differently.
"Passport fraud and visa fraud potentially threaten the national security of the United States," Ambassador Richard J. Griffin, assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security, said in a December press release. "The U.S. passport and visa are two of the most coveted travel documents in the world, and those who have acquired passports and visas fraudulently could perpetrate further illegal acts. These crimes make the United States more vulnerable to terrorism, plain and simple."
And Thomas K. Depenbrock, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, San Francisco Field Office, says that using a dead child's name is "morally repugnant," and a desecration of someone's identity, one that victimizes the family of the deceased.
Immigration officials also recently announced a crackdown on illegal immigrants who use false or stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs. For example, the December sweep at Swift meat-packing plants netted about 1,300 immigrants accused of identity theft and immigration violations.
Depenbrock links stopping identity theft to controlling the country's borders and protecting the integrity of the U.S. passport.
But some of those caught in the passport fraud net seem to pose a far greater threat than Jade. For example, the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Roy Belfast Jr. (aka Charles "Chuckie" McArthur Emmanuel), was arrested last year after he gave a false name for his father on his passport application. But Belfast, a U.S. citizen, was also wanted on torture charges stemming from his work leading a violent paramilitary unit for his father's government.
Those who know Jade say it's ridiculous that she's being lumped in with such notorious criminals. "She was just sort of dropped off here, working under the table," said Paul Stoll, owner of Body Manipulations piercing, branding, and scarification parlor and producer of Flying Tiger Circus. And he wonders how many millions of dollars are being spent on going after people like her rather than, for example, terrorists. "Go find something better to do," Stoll said of the Jade bust.
When "Unkle" Paul Nathan answered the door at his house and walked back to his computer to show a video of Jade's last live contortion performance, he still seemed shocked over her arrest. He's known Jade for about 15 years, since he met her at an underground lesbian cabaret show where she performed by placing gold leaf on her body. Nathan watched her grow as an artist, from a milk bath she did at the Exotic Erotic ball a decade ago to her work as a contortionist.
Nathan looked sad and worried as he watched Jade's on-screen show, recorded at the 2005 Dark Kabaret. In it she looked more mature and moved slowly, no longer performing in the nude, raising herself into a handstand before twisting into the splits as the live band played along to her performance.
Nathan admitted that his longtime friend made a mistake by obtaining an illegal identity, but said he can't believe that the former "cover girl" of the San Francisco performance art scene has had her life ripped out from under her. He described her as a loving, caring, strong woman who's more American than she is Japanese. He even offered to marry her the only time he's proposed to anybody to help her stay in the country. But she said her legal problems were too serious.
"I'm going to miss her," Nathan said, nervously flipping a cigarette lighter between his hands. "I think San Francisco is going to miss her."
All rose when Chief United States Magistrate Judge James Larson entered the courtroom on Jan. 11 for the sentencing of Jade-Blue Eclipse.
Everyone, that is, except for Jade, who didn't show up for the hearing. That's when her lawyer reported rumors that she'd left the country. The assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case asked for a bench warrant and it was issued.
Jade is now a fugitive wanted on charges of possession of a false U.S. identification document and failure to appear in court. DSS would not comment on whether she will face any additional charges. If caught abroad, she could be extradited.
Jade has decided that a life on the lam is far better than doing time in jail.
"After much deep listening and surrender, I came to the conclusion that it is very ridiculous to engage in conversations with a system that treats human beings as non-living beings," she recently wrote.
The arrest, she said, inspired her to do something she would have normally never done close down her new crime-scene cleaning business and head to South America. There, she wants to travel to the Amazon and meet shamans. She discovered a psychotropic Amazonian vine called ayahuasca about a year ago, and wants to use it to learn how to live "in harmony with the land."
Jade seems completely enamored of her new boyfriend Smokes, who she says "takes care of me better than any woman" whom she's dated.
Before she left town, the pair made a batch of ayahuasca tea at their "temple" in Pescadero as Jade did her laundry and packed her things. She alternated putting her clothes in the wash and pounding the twisted ayahuasca vine with a hammer. They then added it and other ingredients into a massive silver turkey fryer and boiled down the brew to create a kind-of tea known for its hallucinogenic properties.
Jade looked softer now, compared to promotional pictures from her days as a performance artist, her face rounder and muscles smoother. Her hair no longer dyed any bright colors, she's traded her sexy clothes for mala meditation beads, a warm jacket and scarf, and a leather hip sack. She sat in the living room near the book Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles, held a drum, and talked about losing her identity, her name, and saying goodbye to San Francisco. She says that she's "held the heart of this city" for a long time, but that the city has changed and is now expensive, gentrified, and growing to be a police state.
"My life, it seems sad," she said. "But in the end I get to do these crazy, amazing things."
Sometime around Christmas Day, after visiting her boyfriend's family, Jade somehow slipped across the border. It's unclear how she got across, or how she made it to South America. But the ever-resourceful woman seems thrilled with her new surroundings. Still, she's already talking about visiting Asia. "I'm the type of person who'd rather die trying something. Live, you know, live something," she said. "You gotta say, 'I lived.' I did some things, even though it was so dumb and lame and ridiculous. It was worth it. It was delicious, 'cause I actually tasted it. And it was decadent. And it was all that."
As for special agent Dubsick, he predicted an SF Weekly follow-up story in Jade's future. When they catch her.