As I have slowly expanded my knowledge of pink films, my expectations of them have grown increasingly mixed and wide-ranging. Some, such as Koji Wakamatsu’s “Ecstasy of the Angels” and Nagisa Oshima’s “Pleasures of the Flesh,” are greatly rewarding for their inclusion of style and socio-political awareness amidst the mandatory sex scenes while others like the “All Night Long” films, “Entrails of a Virgin” and its follow-up “Entrails of a Beautiful Woman” have amazed me with their audacious revelries of bad taste. When I decided to give Tatsumi Kumashiro’s “Lovers Are Wet” a go, I didn’t quite know what I was in for. Luckily, the filmmakers had much more in mind for their actors besides having them act out racy scenes in front of the camera.
The film shows promise right away with a comical bit of self-reflexivity in its opening scene. A young man (Toru Ohe) is transporting film canisters on his bicycle, only to have one reel fall off and roll down a hill, leaving behind a shiny trail of unspoiled celluloid. His name is Katsu, and he has returned to the coastal village where he was born after having run afoul of the yakuza. Much to his dismay, he is recognized by numerous people, yet stubbornly resists acknowledging his true identity to them. He develops a relationship with Yuko, the proprietress of the movie theatre where he works. Cruelly neglected by her gruff husband, she turns to Katsu to help ease her emotional burdens. He also meets Mitsuo and Yoko, a free-spirited couple with whom he forms a strange friendship. They introduce him to a female friend of theirs who tries to get him to accept his true identity, which only infuriates him and pushes him to sexually abuse her. He continues to keep company with his odd circle of acquaintances before deciding which direction to take himself next.
“Lovers Are Wet” is highly reminiscent of Oshima’s films in its characters’ rebellious, disillusioned and even nihilistic behavior. Katsu especially fits the anti-hero mold: an aimless drifter who has supported himself by working in pachinko parlors across Japan , he angrily seeks to cut himself off from his own past while dodging long-term commitment to virtually everything else. When he first spots Mitsuo and Yoko as they make love in the hills by the sea, he nonchalantly walks right up to them and watches as they finish their act, caring not a whit about anything beyond his personal amusement. He shows a tender quality through his intimate moments with Yuko, but also demonstrates his capacity for cruelty when he repeatedly punishes the couple’s friend. Ultimately, he provides a troubling portrayal of youth as he seeks to escape his past, regards the future with wariness and whittles away the present by satisfying his sexual appetites.
Kumashiro is today best known for his output as a noted roman porno director for Nikkatsu, the studio for which he made “Lovers Are Wet.” Throughout it, he demonstrates an admirable degree of attention to both character development and sex scenes alike, in such a way that they actually compliment each other. Doses of humor are present, such as when Tatsu performs songs with raunchy lyrics by the side of the road while a banner reading SEX ANIMAL flutters on his bike, and later, when Mitsuo pelts a retreating bus carrying away Tatsu and Yoko with oranges. An especially notable scene features the young trio playing leapfrog amongst sand dunes. As more articles of clothing are shed, a Brakhagian, flickering white blob appears over the actors’ privates. According to Jasper Sharp’s book “Behind the Pink Curtain,” this was an intentional inclusion from the director, who scratched away the film emulsion in strategic areas. As far as censorship goes, it is a far more creative and welcome method than the rudely intrusive black bars littered throughout the recently released DVD from Kimstim, which earns low marks for clumsily tarnishing the original film in such a way.
Leaving that unfortunate feature aside, viewers curious to learn more about the world of Japanese softcore cinema would benefit from watching this unconventional and surprising discovery from the 1970s.