Back to IndieWire

Japan’s Softcore Porn Tradition Is Revived With a Healthy Blend of Sex, Humor, and Visual Flair

One of Japan's most salacious cinematic exports returns after nearly 30 years in two new projects, "Wet Woman in the Wind" and "Antiporno."

Sion Sono's Antiporno

“Antiporno”

If you read Playboy for the articles, “Wet Woman in the Wind” and “Antiporno” may be for you. Part of MUBI’s foray into theatrical distribution, they also represent the return of the Roman Porno — a particular kind of pink film (read: softcore porn) made by the Nikkatsu studio and prevalent in Japan throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.

The first of these, 1971’s “Apartment Wife: Affair in the Afternoon,” spawned 20 sequels within a seven-year span and made Kuzuko Shirakawa a different kind of scream queen long before Jamie Lee Curtis first met Michael Myers. Nikkatsu produced roughly three Roman Pornos a month until 1988, helping the revered studio pivot away from Yakuza flicks. These affairs were short, sexy, and often quite good — critics responded to them with nearly as much enthusiasm as audiences.

To celebrate that legacy, Nikkatsu recently commissioned a new wave of Roman Pornos. Two of them, Akihiko Shiota’s “Wet Woman in the Wind” and Sion Sono’s “Antiporno,” are now making their way to New York’s Metrograph. (If you think those titles are scandalous, know that they’re preceded by the likes of “Coed Report: Yuko’s White Breasts,” “Female Ninja Magic: 100 Trampled Flowers,” and “Office Lady Rope Slave.”) They were made with the creative limitations as their genre forebears: All films are to be under 80 minutes, shot in a week or less, and feature at least one nude or sex scene every 10 minutes. Which is to say, there’s nary a dull moment in either film.

“Wet Woman in the Wind” makes the splashier intro. It begins with Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) deliberately riding her bike into the harbor while wearing a t-shirt that reads “YOU NEED TISSUES FOR YOUR ISSUES”; after surfacing, she takes the top off in full view of wayward playwright Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka), wrings it out, and asks whether she can stay with him that night.

A kind of manic pixie dream girl — emphasis on manic — Shiori isn’t one to take no for an answer, even and especially from a man who claims to have lost all interest in women. “Don’t think you can escape me,” she tells him at the end of their first encounter. “You can’t.” The madcap romance that follows is ill-advised and intensely physical, which are far from mutually exclusive — in their case, one bleeds into the other.

Wet Woman in the Wind

“Wet Woman in the Wind”

Title notwithstanding, Sono’s entry in the series doesn’t come across as anti-pornography on its face. Sono has long been a provocateur, albeit an artful one: “Love Exposure,” “Guilty of Romance,” and “Suicide Club,” to name just a few of his best films, are as compelling as they are transgressive. A poet before he was a filmmaker, Sono once again imbues salacious material with genuine pathos, here focusing on an artist named Kyokyo (Ami Tomite) unraveling over the course of one strange day.

Fiercely colorful sets contribute to a maximalist aesthetic mostly confined to a single location. Our heroine’s open-floor abode features all-yellow floors and walls, save for the very red bathroom (which has no door); pop-art portraits adorn the walls. As assistants and sycophants stream in and out, Kyoko’s ugly nature is revealed more and more — she tasks the women who visit with barking like a dog, getting naked, and even slitting their wrists; most comply.

More playful and less accomplished than “Wet Woman,” Sono’s film gives the impression of having not only been shot in under a week but written in that short span of time as well. And though physically confined, it serves as a mental tour of Kyoko’s troubled inner world — a kind of self-reflexive one-woman show in which the film set is acknowledged, specters from her past appear in the room with her, and she plumbs the depths of her increasingly tattered psyche.

“I’m a virgin,” she says early on. “A virgin, but a whore. A whore, but a virgin.” Kyoko grapples with that familiar dichotomy throughout the film, whose 73 minutes breeze by just as easily as the 79 of “Wet Woman.” Watching them back-to-back might not tell you everything you always wanted to know about Roman Pornos, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway.

“Wet Woman in the World” is now playing at Metrograph. “Antiporno” opens on Friday, November 24. Both will then stream exclusively on MUBI.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged , , ,