The press materials for Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind emphasize the film’s debt to the legacy of the Nikkatsu studio’s Roman Porno movies, which often told stories of erotically insatiable women, fusing domestic dramas with sexploitation and comedy. Nikkatsu granted its directors quite a bit of leeway, provided that they showed requisite amounts of female bodies, and the result is a body of work that serves as an unofficial document of evolving Japanese culture. Wet Woman in the Wind implicitly continues that documentation, updating the form for contemporary sexual idiosyncrasies.
For all the sex and nudity on display, however, Wet Woman in the Wind is old-fashioned, continuing not only the traditions of Roman Porno, but of vintage American screwball comedy, in which a rigid man is freed of his reservations by the uninhibited behavior of a beautiful and intelligent woman. Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) is a Tokyo playwright living out in the woods to find himself, and, like most people, he’s using that rationale as a pretense for withdrawal from society. Shiota renders Kosuke’s solitary new life in remarkably specific brushstrokes, from the inflatable raft the protagonist uses as a bed, vividly cocooning himself in blankets, to his daily routine, in which he buys coffee beans from town and tends to his garden. One sees the appeal of this life, particularly for a reformed womanizer and aspiring introvert.
Into this idyllic existence almost literally blows Shiori (Yuki Mamiya), as she breezes past Kosuke on a bicycle, deliberately crashing into the ocean. Arising sopping wet out of the water, Shiori removes her T-shirt, casually revealing her breasts to Kosuke while squeezing her garment dry. Understandably expecting Kosuke to be impressed, Shiori asks him to put her up for the night for a fee. Kosuke asks her how much she’s willing to pay, when Shiori intended him to pay for her company. Thus begins the sort of sexual negotiations that Kosuke was hoping to escape with his woodsy sabbatical.
When men withdraw from society, mainly from sex, there’s usually an element of pleading to their decision, a wish to be asked to rejoin the game, which usually isn’t granted. Wet Woman in the Wind is concerned with this fantasy, in which a woman appears out of nowhere, playing the role of the sexual broker and aggressor. Shiota understands a pivotal strand of the American screwball comedy: that it’s often a male fantasy of relief from male expectations, hence the dominant female characters who sort out men’s neuroses.
The film physicalizes this gender upheaval with an equivocation between sex and violence that’s played for slapstick comedy. Stalking Kosuke, Shiori titillates him and beats him when he’s on the verge of arousal, and he responds in kind. Their struggles suggest the oxymoronic notion of consensual rape, an especially disturbing association for America in 2017. The lightness of tone is maintained by the understanding that Kosuke and Shiori’s exertions are roleplay; this man and woman are temporarily meant for one another because they speak the same corporeal language, and because Kosuke’s studious recession compliments Shiori’s equally studious promiscuity.
Shiota’s sketch-like scenes have an eccentric and volatile intensity, as the filmmaker stages subtly theoretical moments that still allow for spontaneity. When Shiori escapes Kosuke’s grappling at one point, she cuts a slit into the cloth wall of his shack, creating a vaginal opening. In a surreal gag, Kosuke’s later confronted by disciples of his writing, all dressed like him, who seem to regard this vaginal portal as a god, from which Shiori emerges like a Christ. This image cannily embodies a supreme male fear as well as a desire: to be reduced to an atom within a submissive mass.
The film is building to a climax in which Kosuke and Shiori fuck one another’s brains out. Yes, Kosuke and Shiori are exceptionally attractive, but the force of their coupling stems from their animalistic intoxication with one another, which effaces each person to forge a self-cannibalizing mass of carnality. Shiota courageously informs his physical scenes with a sense of absurdity that amplifies the sexiness with an acknowledgement of vulnerability. There’s none of the strained seriousness here that often mars coitus in American cinema. Shiota pinpoints the reason, then, that many of us aren’t having the sex we want: pride, which is actually fear, and it’s this understanding that indicates the film’s modernity. Walled off in our own cocoons, we aren’t willing to get our hands dirty and look foolish. For that, we pay a steep price.