Screenplay: Akihiko Shiota
Cast: Yuki Mamiya as Shiori; Tasuku Nagaoka as Kosuke; Takahiro Katô as Yuzawa; Michiko Suzuki as the Theatre actress; Ryushin Tei as Kubouchi
Synopsis: Reclusive playwright Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) finds his imposed isolation from the modern world, in his self sufficient hut in the woods, transgressed by a very sexually active woman named Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) who refuses to leave him alone. Add to this her previous relationship with the owner of a coffee resturent and an actress at his former theatre appearing with four male acting protegees and a shy female secretary, and Kosuke is forced towards Shiori and her almost primal sense of carnality.
So Nikkatsu have re-launched the Roman Porno line for a celebratory event, commissioning five directors to make five films under the line's original guidelines, that as long as there was titilation every ten minutes and that they were under eighty minutes, these films were very liberal in what their directors could do. These films were their savour in the seventies until its end in the late eighties, started as a way to survive the decline in Japanese cinema box office. However the Nikkatsu line like the rest of the pinku (erotic) films from Japan have a high reputation to them nonetheless. For every one that's probably offensive in the modern climate and every one that's probably terrible or a cheap softcore porn film like their Western counterparts, pinku cinema from Japan has a lustre of great artistry to them. Even the European erotic films of the past can fail to have what they've always possess, as whilst they could be more kitsch or fun genre schlock, the pinku can be anything from fun comedy, serious drama and potentially inspiring in their artistic concerns, all because of the rule that as long as there is sex and nudity in them, even the lowest of budget works can have carte blanche in their ideas. There can be anything from Akio Jissoji's spell binding Marquis De Sade's Prosperities of Vice (1988) to Takahisa Zeze's dank but compelling drama Dirty Maria (1998). Even pure silliness like The Strange Saga of Hiroshi the Freeloading Sex Machine (2005) can be a delight in how a lack of budget doesn't stop them from being playful and emotionally concerned for their characters.
Now originally this was going to be a more negative review of Wet Woman in the Wind here, but the real issue at hand isn't that this film isn't fun or rewarding. It's a film which has slowly burnt in quality over the days I've watched it. The issue is that it's not the barnburner you'd expect from this Roman Porno reboot project. However in light of Sion Sono's Antiporno (2016), whilst not the best of this genre of films from Japan, I have to admit Wet Woman in the Wind is a lot more rewarding as I've reflected on it. Not helping is that there's fives of these films in this reboot project and there's no word of the other three in the project being released in the United Kingdom - Hideo Nakata's White Lily, Isao Yukisada’s Aroused by Gymnopedies and Kazuya Shiraishi’s Dawn of the Felines (all 2016). A project like this needs all five films to be freely available as a packaged deal, which hasn't happened irritatingly in the UK. Even if the project was ultimately a failure, this idea as with all ambitious one-off concepts like it needs all the parts to be visible or one is not going to get the full picture, a full picture that would've helped considerably add various shades of new colour to the other films.
Premise wise this is pretty simple. A modern man attempts to get back to his roots, living in the woods in his own hand built hut and sustaining himself on basics, even drinking distilled rainwater, only for true enlightenment not to come from his attempt at a very modern and masculine concept, to cut oneself off from modernity in a Walden-like isolation, but from sensuality and passion for life. That's immediately where Wet Woman... is deceptively simple because that is actually a pretty thoughtful concept to play with, all the men in the film frustrated and with pretensions to themselves whilst a figure of literal carnality like Shiori can yank them from these traps through sex. It's a concept that could easily be dismissed as crass, as Shiori is an archetype of the sexually active female figure who liberates others through herself. Then there's the complexities like the restaurant owner having left his wife for her, which has to be resolved, to that even the two other female figures of the actress and the secretary have to go through their own disregard for their previous issues to arrive at a better place emotionally. That it's played through a fluffy sex comedy which is light in drama and broad in its sex, between farcical camper van group sex to a threesome where two women kick Kosuke out the hut, is the most disarming aspect because it suggests a pinku film that's more about the softcore than any deeper thoughts.
In the context of the Roman Porno reboot series, it's pretty normal with the weight of expectations against it unfairly. When you consider the ballyhoo behind this series of five films, you expect a film like Underwater Love (2011), one of the best modern pinku to be released in the West. Admittedly that was a one-off musical pinku with cinematography by Christopher Doyle, but that's what you'd expect this project to be full of. And yet, considering how very obvious and ultimately overrated Sion Sono's Antiporno, trying to have its cake and eat it by being important but transgressive, literally having the female lead slam her face into a giant cake as if to extract urine at itself, Wet Woman in the Wind is actually more rewarding in hindsight. It's efficient and ordinary erotica in tone, but that's actually to its benefit. It's eroticism in particular is a virtue, never viewed in a sinful and destructive light, any drama found in the worst in people (the older man who has left his wife for the heroine, the playwright trying to isolate himself off from the world only for that to be more a regressive act than actually liberating) that is eventually healed through sex, the kind of rampant sex that's absurdly prolific only in these sorts of films but manages to work within the world's logic. A tone which openly embraces absurdity from the beginning when Shiori's introductory scene has her making herself known to the protagonist by riding her bicycle into a river.
It's playfulness with this erotica is for laughs, never overtly absurd but with passion literally bringing a house down in the end for good measure. The eroticism is helped by the restrictions in Japanese censorship in fact. Ironically, whilst it's been the cause of the more problematic content in Japanese pop culture in terms of sexuality because creators have had to work around the restrictions of even showing actual pornography without blurring, this law is actually to an advantage for pinku like Wet Woman in the Wind to have to be more creative, becoming more sensual and titillation in tone as a result because you cannot show anything below the waist from the front because of censorship. As much as I admire the Borowczyks, Rollins, Francos etc. of Europe, European and American softcore from the seventies to the modern day, with far less restrictions, can be some of the most dated and embarrassingly tacky material you could ever sit through, their greater allowance for luridness also meaning any Tom, Dick and Harry could churn out material as long as it has full frontal nudity and sex without thought to what's on camera. Even a sex comedy like Wet Woman..., rather than some of the more aesthetically ambitious examples of the genre, has to rely on their style instead. That many of these films were made by talented working directors and production crews, or were the first films for great future talents in their industry is fittingly paid tribute to by the individuals who were chosen for this reboot project.
That the film feels pretty conventional is as much its failing as it is a virtue, a severe double edged sword if there was any for this material. To kick-start a legacy again like Roman Porno is one that's always going to evoke the issue of whether it's going to live up to its origins, especially as this is meant to be five films only, not as yet a continuation of the series. Within what feels like a bold artistic project, it's nice to have a light hearted sex comedy in the midst, it's just unfortunate that that also means Wet Woman in the Wind is going to be unfairly compared to a work like Antiporno, which screams and flails its limbs around, making the biggest noise proclaiming itself to be IMPORTANT whether critically justifiable or not. Whilst played as a comedy, Wet Woman in the Wind does have a lot of admirable moments within it that seem considerably smarter. How its view of sexuality is carnal and beyond any crass surface, the leads biting each other at one point in consensual role-play. That there's little plot details - the lead's male friend who is an bad amateur poet, that there's a strange creature in the woodlands that is only heard - which weave in and out like screwball comedy beats and add to the playfulness. The farcical nature of the four young actors (having to replay the same ghost story narrative over and over in one scene) looking like Kosuke and how Shiori, part of defining her character's greater sense of freedom as a person, starts mimicking dog noises to be sarcastic, all of which having a greater subtlety.
In imagining the film as a take on repressed male sexuality, and having so many scenes I'm looking on for their humour or just being sensual, this has been slowly burning in the back of my mind as time has passed viewing the film. As a result this is such a better viewing experience than I previously thought and in Wet Woman's favour, probably the kind of film you'd rather want from a project to resurrect old style Japanese pinku as it feels closer to the ethos of erotica. That which was originally made by Nikkatsu wanting to make erotic films which could yet still be viewed by couples, men and women a target audience equally, which were playful and with whit.