Why I Love… #145: Wet Woman in the Wind

Year: 2016

Director: Akihito Shiota

Stars: Yuki Mamiya, Tasuku Nagaoka, Ryushin Tei

Few characters make an entrance in modern cinema quite like Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) in Wet Woman in the Wind. As our nomadic male lead Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) stands passively on a dock, the young, beautiful and sexually precocious Shiori gleefully rides a bicycle down into the water, falling off it with a small yelp. Dragging her sodden self up onto the wooden structure, she disrobes from her wet t-shirt which is emblazoned with the phrase, “You Need Tissues For Your Issues”. It is as though Kosuke’s life has just been invaded by an erotically-charged circus performer.

The sequence that follows further engenders this feeling. Not impressed by Shiori’s efforts to get his attention, Kosuke drags a two-wheeled cart back to his shack-like home. Undeterred, Shiori climbs aboard, offering herself to him. Kosuke wordlessly lifts her off and unceremoniously dumps her – literally – into a steep grassy ditch beside the path. With another yelp Shiori disappears from view. But like a spring-bound cartoon character, she shoots back up to continue her pursuit. Thus a classic screwball comedy dynamic is established. Emphasis on screw.

In the mid 2010s, Japan’s Nikkatsu Studios commissioned a handful of filmmakers to bring their ’70s brand of erotic cinema – known in some circles as Roman Porno movies – into the modern age. Maverick auteur Sion Sono’s offering – the reflexive genre critique Antiporno – garnered the most attention (understandably; it’s one of the director’s best films), but also deserving of appreciation is Akihito Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind. Shiota’s take on the genre is less disruptive. Indeed, you might almost call it sincere, attempting as it does to rekindle the concept of the cheeky sex comedy for a contemporary milieu.

For this viewer what follows stands as one of the rare titles of this type to deliver on both sides of it’s mandate. Wet Woman in the Wind is both funny and sexy. Two things that movies so often aim for only to tumble into ditches of their own.

Kosuke – a passive, even apathetic fellow – has abandoned modern urban society and is now holed up in a modestly built abode in a woodland clearing, attempting a kind of spiritual detox. He’s taken a leaf out of the book of Walden, except he doesn’t even have a pond. In what feels like a deliberate and comic nod to Henry David Thoreau’s literary classic, Kosuke sleeps in a blow-up dinghy inside his shack; a delightfully incongruous motif that speaks suggestively of Kosuke’s success (or lack thereof) in finding enlightenment in isolation. Keeping up his pretense in this regard, he shrugs off Shiori’s advances, but she’s a wily one and has many tools and tactics at her disposal.

WWITW

Shiota presents all this swiftly (WWITW is a just-right 77 minutes) and modestly, but with an understated sense of flare and theatricality that proves surprisingly charming and sophisticated. Most striking is the exceedingly handsome lighting choices. His characters – and their increasingly naked bodies – are bathed in golden colours that accentuate their youth, beauty and smoothness. An aura of the erogenous is conjured in these selections. Toward the end of the film – when Kosuke’s blood has been boiled – the clearing is lit with eerie, neon greens, furthering a sense that Shiori is some kind of nymph, whose succubus spell has been well and truly cast. It isn’t so heavy-handed as, say, an Argento flick, but there’s a spice of the supernatural in the undergrowth at this orgasmic climax.

In keeping with the warmth he offers his characters, there’s an appreciative sex-positivity about WWITW that harkens back to the genre’s ’70s heyday while excising the preoccupation with rape that dogs and complicates many of those films, particularly in Japan. Consent is of the upmost importance here. And while forced sex is acknowledged, threatened and even attempted, it is futile, fumbled and easily rebuffed. A far-flung change of philosophy compared to the films of old. And indeed much of the time here is spent with Kosuke rebuffing Shiori’s advances, even as his own sexuality is stirred by her efforts.

When his former girlfriend from the city (Michio Suzuki) reemerges and shimmies into bed dinghy with him, Shiori brazenly joins then, but her interest lies specifically with the new, unnamed woman. Wildly turned on, Kosuke attempts to turn the scene into a threesome, but Shiori comically kicks him away every time he has a mind to try and penetrate her. The effect is twofold. It furthers her goal to transform Kosuke’s feelings toward her (now someone he can’t have; that ol’ reverse psychology), and it shows Shiori’s utterly sincere bisexual interest. In this moment, she is absolutely given over to sex with Kosuke’s old flame. Refreshingly, this outlook and aspect of Shiori is never criticised. She is female with a healthy and hungry interest in sex and WWITW never once suggests there is anything shameful in that. And, importantly, her choice of sexual partner will always be her own.

WWITW

And while WWITW may play as more straight-forward than Sono’s contrasting and challenging Antiporno, it isn’t without it’s own self-reflexive values. Kosuke, it transpires, isn’t the reclusive dope he initially appears to be, but a playwright of some regard. During one of their many verbal sparring matches, Shiori speaks of her desire to become an actor. Kosuke, drawing from his experience in theatre, starts maneuvering her through training exercises. His first active engagement with her is on this intellectual – yet playful – level.

This jostling, hand-held scene – captured in long takes with canny cuts – culminates with an exercise in which Shiori is instructed to convey a range of emotions via a stout branch they are holding at either end. As the two whirl around and get closer together, the bluntly phallic nature of the ‘wood’ between them can’t be ignored, and the moment becomes heated in ways that Kosuke had not anticipated, but the scene folds into a more metatextual theme of performance that encompasses the whole picture.

Wet Woman in the Wind is a soft-core flick. The audience knows this. Hell, it’s why a good percentage of its viewers are watching. Soft-core pornography predicates itself on the agreed illusion of real sex. On a convincingly arousing act of theatre. And when it comes down to fucking, the actors here are convincing. Nagaoka bucks his hips with gusto.

But the idea of performance has taken on a new level within the strata of the picture, thanks to the aforementioned training sequence and scenes in which Kosuke’s former acting troupe rehearse outside his woodland home. This idea of performance is suspended in the memory and held in combination with both the viewer’s formative understanding that what’s happening isn’t real and – potentially – their appreciation that the film as a whole is part of a genre exercise.

In short, Wet Woman in the Wind seems to good-naturedly invite us to view it within certain quotation marks, and enjoy it on multiple levels.

That’s easy to do. This is a breezy, light and relatively trivial little picture. In it, sex is regenerative and restorative. By the end, everyone is after it, at it, and relishing getting it. Shiori’s nymph spell conjures a variety of happy endings. In keeping with the ethos of her sodden t-shirt, all anyone here needed were some tissues for their issues.

Antiporno has been afforded a UK blu-ray release via Third Window Films (largely thanks to the popularity of the director behind it). I have hopes that one day Wet Woman in the Wind will be afforded a similar physical release. In the meantime, you can find it hidden in the archive section on MUBI.

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