by Jason Suzuki
Nikkatsu, in the spirit of maintaining attention and relevance, has joined the reboot party by reigniting the production of the type of soft-core sexploitation that kept them afloat in the 70s and well into the 80s: the roman porno. Enlisting five different directors (all male, apparently all the female directors they wanted were either pregnant or taking care of their kids) they were allowed to make whatever kind of film they wanted just as long as they fulfilled a sex scene quota: every ten minutes but the rule is loose. Many great filmmakers have emerged out of this tradition including Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Oscar winner Yojiro Takita; a similar idea was happening in the states under the guidance of Roger Corman with Scorsese, Coppola, and Demme. This year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival screened two of the five Roman Porno reboots: Sono’s heady Anti-Porno and the more conventionally fun and sexy Wet Woman in the Wind from director Akihiko Shiota whose work spans festival favorites like Harmful Insect (2002, also Nikkatsu) and more commercially successful fare like the Tezuka-based Dororo (2007).
Tasuku Nagaoka plays Kosuke, a reclusive playwright (which becomes important partway through) who has sworn off women and much of society to live alone in the woods in his makeshift shack complete with batteries for the minimal amount of electricity he needs and an inflated raft for a bed. One day out and about, collecting discarded furniture for his shack, he crosses paths with Shiori (Yuki Mamiya), the woman of the title. Her entrance signals the disruption she will enjoy inflicting on Kosuke: driving a bicycle full speed into the water, letting it sink as she takes her wet shirt off in front of him. When he brushes off her advances she fixates on him, and thus begins a battle between this man and the self-proclaimed “love hunter” over his chastity. It’s about power rather than pleasure and Shiori refuses to be ignored.
So begins the premise where each successive attempt to get Kosuke to submit counts toward Nikkatsu’s rule of sex/nudity every ten minutes. It’s not until later when the chorus of howling dogs that surround the woodland shack is the call to the cast of humans’ response. But leading up to that release there is still much joy to be had as relations between characters and details on the man Kosuke was before he swore off women are divulged.
Once his profession is revealed and is incorporated into the story is where the power play gets an injection of excitement. Once Shiori learns that he was a stage director she reveals she wanted to be an actress once. Excited at the prospect of having an upper hand on her, Kosuke proceeds to audition her. Asking her to express different emotions through the same phrase and then expressing those same emotions through the branch they are each holding an end to. If we were to distill the film into one scene it would be this, the two twisting each other through the same stick. Not letting go but not taking it away, this back and forth is physical and relates to how these characters treat sex as an expression of relationship standings rather than procreation or recreation.
Thankfully this subtext is not lost during the sex as it is all highly choreographed, one scene in particular having foreplay which could be regarded as an accomplished martial arts bit rather than an erotic back and forth. When an old flame from Kosuke’s theater days shows up with nubile, mousy assistant and four blank actors who do everything together, we get more players in this little spot in the forest. The cramped setting could easily translate to the stage as Kosuke and Shiori have their way with the new arrivals. Somehow they are able to treat having sex with others as just the next stage of their foreplay with one another.
What emerges from these two films, I have yet to see the other three produced for the reboot, is that whether they are fully self-reflexive like the Sono entry or mildly aware like Shiota’s, these are post-modern pink films. Made for an audience aware of the formula and history of the genre, these are commentaries on sexual politics and entertainment to varying degrees. Ultimately this makes the works much more enjoyable and watchable than your average roman porno. Even a film with a similar guiding standard like Zero Man vs. the Half Virgin (2012), a film from the Seisyun H2 film series which got bogged down by an overlong sex scene in its middle act. Shiota’s film is a breeze to sit through and strives to stimulate both north and south regions of the body.
Jason Suzuki is co-editor of Cinema Adrift.