The 2017 New York Asian Film Festival is underway, and we at ComicsVerse will be there to share all our favorites from the fest.

How is the language of sex translated across cultures? That is the question I intended to answer with my next selection of films from the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

Turns out the theme was exclusively Japanese this time around.

So I scrapped that idea. Oh well.

Instead, I delve into the pink world of Roman Porno films — softcore Japanese pornography — with my next two films, WET WOMAN IN THE WIND and DAWN OF THE FELINES.

I think it goes without saying that this article is not safe for work (NSFW). For those reading with young children present, perhaps this is an article for another time.

Warning: Please be advised, this article discusses sensitive topics relating to consensual and non-consensual sex which may be upsetting to some readers.

A Brief Introduction to Nikkatsu Roman Porno Films

First things first: a Roman Porno is a genre of softcore pornography produced exclusively by Nikkatsu, Japan’s oldest film studio. It’s not interchangeable with a “pink film,” a broad term which refers to any Japanese film that features nudity or sex.

The first Roman Porno film, APARTMENT WIFE: AFFAIR IN THE AFTERNOON, premiered in 1971 to huge commercial success. Nikkatsu’s Roman Pornos dominated the Japanese box office during the ’70s and ’80s until adult videos — more or less straight pornography — began cutting into pink film profitability.

READ: JAPANESE GIRLS NEVER DIE and SOUL MATE tackle issues of sexism and misogyny with varying results.

Generally speaking, Roman Porno films were of higher-quality than most pink films and were much more popular with viewers and critics alike. Nikkatsu gave Roman Porno directors a great deal of creative freedom so long as they met the following four requirements:

  1. 80 minutes or less in length
  2. One nude or sex scene every 15 minutes
  3. One week to shoot
  4. Complete within standard low budget

Anything else is fair game. As you can imagine, results may vary.

In 2016, Nikkatsu announced the Roman Porno Reboot Project in honor of the genre’s 45th anniversary. The Roman Porno Reboot Project tasked five prominent Japanese directors to put their own creative spin on a Roman Porno. From this reboot came Sion Sono’s  ANTIPORNO, Hideo Nakata’s WHITE LILY, Isao Yukisad’s AROUSED BY GYMNOPEDIES, Kazuya Shiraishi’s DAWN OF THE FELINES, and Akihiko Shiota’s WET WOMAN IN THE WIND.

The latter three had their U.S. premiere at NYAFF 2017, and the last two are the topic of this review. So now that you’re up to speed, let’s begin.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about Roman Porno films outsides the bare basics. As such, I cannot claim any expertise in this genre. So, long story short, these films are probably a lot deeper and far more clever than I can comprehend. So take my review with a grain of salt.

WET WOMAN IN THE WIND

WET WOMAN IN THE WIND finds successful Tokyo playwright Kosuke as a forest-squatting recluse because his womanizing ways have exhausted his fragile, poetic spirit. Readers should take note of the author’s empathic response to Kosuke’s plight. His Thoreau-esque existence is upturned by the arrival of a traveling theater troupe and the mysterious Shiori. Shiori is intent on bedding Kosuke, but only after a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse, much to the latter’s confusion. He didn’t even want to have sex with her in the first place.

What follows is 78 minutes of bizarre comedy and sexual liberation that literally rocks the house, the van, and the inflatable raft-bed. Most of the Roman Porno feels like an absurdist hallucination in which very little connects one scene to the next, one question to the response. I have an inkling that WET WOMAN IN THE WIND is some meta-level improvisation designed to engage viewers through incongruity. The Roman Porno even has its own leitmotif for when the scene takes a new illogical turn. But maybe I’m being too critical of a film whose sole purpose is to titillate.

Sexually speaking, Akihiko Shiota’s WET WOMAN IN THE WIND was much tamer in comparison to DAWN OF THE FELINES. But, all things considered, that’s probably a good thing. WET WOMAN IN THE WIND is somewhat prosaic in its effort to mix quirky humor with over-the-top sex, but Shiota’s reverence for the prolific genre is nonetheless evident. A little research reveals numerous nods to Roman Porno’s best.

CLICK: Mei-juin Chen is a master of cinematic anthropology. We sat down with her to discuss her latest film, THE GANGSTER’S DAUGHTER

The director’s endeavor to impart a bit of humanity into what could easily be a simple 80-minute sexcapade is commendable as well. Still, WET WOMAN IN THE WIND is a bit too subdued to make a statement — a de facto requirement for any provocateur director today. Shiota went a little too Michael Bay for a genre that is more Lars von Trier.

That being said, the film’s odd crack at confronting traumas like rape and infidelity seem superfluous at best and irresponsible at worst.

DAWN OF THE FELINES

It’s Kazuya Shiraishi turn to take a stab at the Roman Porno and he’s clearly done his homework. The title is an homage to the 1972 NIGHT OF THE FELINES. But, by Roman Porno standards, DAWN OF THE FELINES already fails at 84 minutes in length.

Ignoring this blatant oversight, Shiraishi’s film takes a more serious approach to the Roman Porno (although only slightly). DAWN OF THE FELINES dresses itself up as a pseudo-documentary about the downtrodden lives of three Tokyo sex workers. Masako, Yui, and Rie all work for a “Health Express” agency called the Young Wives Paradise. There, they perform sexual services, including full penetration, for a fee.

DAWN OF THE FELINES makes no qualms about the unsavory players that make up the Tokyo sex industry. Masako, Yui, and Rie are all deeply flawed women. Masako is a homeless debtor who throws away her university education and stable job for no apparent reason. Single mother Yui abuses her son and leaves him with a caretaker to date a sleazy comedian. Rie, fleeing her husband’s infidelity, takes advantage of an elderly widow grieving over his recently departed wife.

READ: We review two NYAFF 2017 standouts — BAD GENIUS and THE GANGSTER’S DAUGHTER.

It’s easy to write these characters off as despicable human beings — on paper, they’re terrible. But the film never gives these women the opportunity to develop beyond their two-sentence character descriptions. Unfortunately, the Roman Porno’s strict 15-minute rule does DAWN OF THE FELINES a disservice. A sex scene interrupts Shiraishi every time he even so much as hints at a deeper character moment. The disjointed narrative that made WET WOMAN IN THE WIND idiosyncratic and charming is distracting and disturbing in DAWN OF THE FELINES.

Despite all the sex, DAWN OF THE FELINES is a decidedly unsexy tale. Whereas Shiota reigned it in, Shiraishi went full Lars von Trier in his Roman Porno reboot. Necrophilia, rape, and bondage, all with a side of child abuse and attempted suicide-murder, are par for the course.

Ultimately, Shiraishi’s DAWN OF THE FELINES is an incomplete and imperfect study on loneliness and our innate need for connection, however destructive it may be.

Check out the rest of ComicsVerse’s coverage of the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival!

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