Sydney Film Festival Review: Wet Woman in the Wind (Japan, 2016) beckons the return of the Roman Porno

Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind is a feature-length manhunt, set into motion by Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) riding her bike into the sea. She emerges as she entered, focused and unwavering, locking on to Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka), a playwright in pursuit of celibacy. Shiota’s film develops into a playful take on a Japanese sub-genre and introduces Western audiences to the type of film that couldn’t have originated anywhere else.

Wet Woman in the Wind is the first of four films to be produced as a part of a Pink Film revival project, bridled by Japanese film studio Nikkatsu. The Pink Film was the title for a genre of soft-core pornographic films that stimulated the Japanese film industry in the 1970’s. The Nikkatsu Pink Film series, which have become a sub-genre of Pink Film titled Roman Porno, were immensely popular in Japan and were lauded for being highbrow, soft-core pornography.

Young Japanese directors were able to cut their teeth on Roman Porno flicks through the 70’s-80’s with studios often opting to recruit unestablished but enthusiastic auteurs. Roman Porno films traditionally ran on a formula that required at least four sex scenes, a runtime longer than an hour and to be shot in under a week.

Under these criteria, Shiota’s film scores a tick in every box. It’s a film with a lot of sex scenes, but it rarely feels like blatant pornographic material. The story follows Shiori, a woman devoted to her quest to sleep with a successful playwright, Kosuke, who’s barred woman and moved to rural Japan seeking isolation. It tracks her psychological warfare as she slowly lures Kosuke back into the world of lust, through her strange combination of titillation and lasciviousness.

Whatever labels are attached to the genre, Wet Woman in the Wind is a genuinely funny film. It doesn’t get caught up in purposeless nudity or sex scenes, instead blending the comedy into a strange but entertaining story and one that feels, in moments, like part of a Haruki Murakami novel. The film even manages to extend the comedy to the sex scenes, inflating the longer scenes with awkward moments and unusual interactions between Kosuke and Shiori.

With respect to the genre’s former notoriety for misogyny, Wet Woman In the Wind hands the power to Shiori for the entire eighty-minutes. Kosuke is always at her mercy, when he wants her and when he doesn’t, which leads to two of the films best scenes (one involving a sandwich and the other a congregation of aspiring actors). The two leads also give commendable performances, despite the testing nature of the roles.

Akihiko Shiota is perhaps not as reputed as the other directors who will soon partake in the Roman Porno revival, which include populist names Hideo Nakata and Sion Sono. However, his reputation for indie-films is well suited to the genre, and Shiota’s rendition is likely to be among the best to come from Nikkatsu’s nostalgic porno rebirth.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Wet Woman in the Wind will be playing at the Sydney Film Festival on the 12th and the 16th of June. Visit tix.sff.org.au for more information.

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