Interview

 
 
Place: New York

Just Like Drinking Water…

Art Categories:  Film, Movie

As Shunga (Japanese erotic art) from the Edo period attests, until the Western sense of values arrived in Japan, sex had probably lived and was expressed magnanimously throughout the culture. In 1971, the legendary Nikkatsu Roman Porno was born into the culture and remained popular through 1988. For its 45th anniversary in 2016, twenty-eight years after the end of production, Nikkatsu launched the Roman Porno Reboot Project. Nikkatsu selected five of Japan’s most acclaimed directors, including Sion Sono and Hideo Nakata, to produce completely original Roman Porno films for theatrical release.

 

In New York City every summer, the New York Asian Film Festival is held at Film Society of Lincoln Center. At this year’s festival, which ran from June 30 to July 16, Akihiko Shiota’s (“Moonlight Whispers”, “Harmful Insect”) film for the Nikkatsu Roman Porno Reboot Project, and the winner of the Locarno Junior Jury Award, “Wet Woman in the Wind” screened on July 4.

 

While Kosuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) is living a secluded life in the woods, leaving behind his past and desire, the mysterious Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) appears in front of him all the sudden. Shiori, as if she embodies the sense of  “being alive,” behaves instinctively. Soon her graceful, naked body and uninhibited sexual impulse awaken Kosuke’s desire of being.

 

This film that reminds us of the old Japanese approach to sex has created a sensation all over the world now. Can we depict desire this boldly and freely? Can sex be affirmative like this? In fact, today the Christian sense of values has infiltrated the life of not only Western countries but also Japan, and it is often transmitted by the news media and through arts like literature and film. We live everyday without being aware of that, but the exhilarating “Wet Woman in the Wind,” which is honest about being alive, allows us to realize ourselves who don’t even questions those pervasive, common values.

 

 

COOL sat with director Akihiko Shiota and lead actress Yuki Mamiya to discuss “Wet Woman in the Wind.”

Akihiko Shiota & Yuki Mamiya

 

 

“I was actually about to quit acting”

 

In celebration of the 45th anniversary of Nikkatsu Roman Porno, five new titles were produced this time. Have any former Roman Porno filmmakers influenced you?

Shiota: I began watching Nikkatsu Roman Porno in the eighties when I was in college. Nikkatsu Roman Porno launched in 1971, so I didn’t see any Roman Porno films in its first ten years. Former Roman Porno directors such as Tatsumi Kumashiro, Noboru Tanaka, Masaru Konuma and Chusei Sone were already well known back then, and revival houses had special programs to screen five of their films a day, so I chased after those opportunities to explore Roman Porno.

 

I had a strong impression especially from Tatsumi Kumashiro; he was great but far away from my nature, so I wouldn’t be able to do what he was doing. Then, a few decades have passed since then, and when I was going to shoot a Nikkatsu Roman Porno myself, I had the idea that I was finally able to make a film standing on the same stage that director Kumashiro stood on.

 

What quality of the lead actors Ms. Mamiya and Mr. Nagaoka were you attracted to?

Shiota: We found Ms. Mamiya at the audition for the film. However, I didn’t try to find out any background information about the audition attendees at all, so I directed them right there, and decided only from their performance.

 

Ms. Mamiya was relaxed in a good way at that time, so I had the impression that she was comfortably coping with the male role actor. And when they were doing the scene where the male role is freaking out, the way she looks at him very relaxed was so cool and dry. She can look down with a really cool expression of her face. And the expression in her eyes was fantastic. And, of course, her voice. Her voice is deep unlike other young women these days. On the other hand, she can also utter a sweet voice, so I was impressed by her range.

 

Mr. Nagaoka auditioned for one of my former films, and he left a strong impression on me. He is very sexy and I liked his performance. I wasn’t able to work with him on that film, but I had a hint of a premonition that he could probably play the leading role of Kosuke. Then I heard that Mr. Nagaoka wanted to work on this film, so I offered him the role.

 

Ms. Mamiya, how did you have an opportunity to go to the audition for this film?

Yuki Mamiya

Mamiya: When I had the audition, I was actually about to quit acting. I was really broke, so I was moving from my friend’s place to another. So I just had the audition without knowing what kind of project that was. Because I was going to quit if I didn’t get the part, going to this audition was, for me, like going to a bar or something, so I just had fun at the audition and left.

 

Your character Shiori is powerful. How does she look from your point of view?

Mamiya: I really don’t want to be friends with her [laughs]. Because she would most likely take my man away from me. But, at the same time, I somewhat envy her. In society, there is this atmosphere that women shouldn’t be open about sex, and it’s better that women have less sexual experiences. However, Shiori allows us to think, “That would be no problem.” I admire her openness.

 

What aspects of Shiori do you sympathize with?

Mamiya: As many people would, but I wouldn’t want to suddenly take off my clothes in front of people, like Shiori in the opening scene and the theatre practice scene. When I see drunk girls take their clothes off, I find it cool sometimes, I’m interested in doing it… When I’m interested in someone, I actively go forward like Shiori, so that my active attitude about love might be similar to hers.

 

 

“I want the audience to be aware that this is a post-3/11 film”

 

Shiori’s background remains unknown. Why?

Shiota: I actually wanted to make a world of folklore. One day, a mysterious woman appears in front of a man, and they begin living together. After three years the woman confesses, “I’m actually a fox. I have to go back to my home because my mother is sick,” and she disappears. That’s an example, so the woman is simply “a fox disguised as a human”, nothing more. So achieving that with real human bodies was a challenge for me this time. Because there is the simplicity, the qualities of sensuality and comedy can emerge, but if you add human emotions unconsciously, the story would have been ordinary. That’s why I was telling Ms. Mamiya not to be conscious about her character’s background.

 

Mamiya: I often write my characters’ profiles like how old, when could be the birthday, and what blood type, and keep that in mind, but this time director Shiota told me not to imagine my character’s background or write it down.

 

In the film there is the line, “We were on our way to perform in Fukushima, Miyagi and Akita, until last night’s earthquake.” Did the 3/11 earthquake influence this film?

Shiota: There is no direct influence, and I just tried to make a timeless folklore. However, the film doesn’t speak about 3/11, but it’s distributed in post-3/11 Japan. So, I always verify whether the film is unnatural when I present this film to people in Japan whose consciousness has changed, whether the film is acceptable in this time of the era. But whether the film is acceptable or not is not about just adding that essence. The film itself needs to be well made. While the film is unfolding very well, I want the audience to be aware that this is a post-3/11 film, so I included an essence of it.

 

Moreover, this film answers humans’ will for living.  So, when I think about myself while working on the film, I think I was conscious that that quality could be an affirmative response to 3/11.

 

I often hear that a creator’s fundamental nature is reflected in his or her very first work. In “Moonlight Whispers,” there is a woman who toys with men like in “Wet Woman in the Wind.”

Shiota: I like a world where a man and a woman are in tactics psychologically and physically, but they never hate each other or compete with each other. They communicate with each other in that way, and then they battle like a game.

 

The scene with the stick very much embodies that aspect.

Shiota: That’s a situation where various emotions merge together, not just love and hate. Like, things are happening without defining black and white.

 

Mamiya: Mr. Nagaoka was saying that the reason why those women appear in director Shiota’s films is that he has this desire to be played by those women, but director Shiota completely denies.

 

Shiota: I might have that desire, but I don’t want it to come true [laughs]. If that happened to me for real, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate it.

 

Unlike 1999’s “Moonlight Whispers,” “Wet Woman in the Wind” depicts perverse acts free-spiritedly. This film is widely accepted in society in 2017, so what do you think people are hoping for now?

Shiota: In “Moonlight Whispers,” a teenage girl is little by little mired in a perverse world. The film was released on DVD here in the US too, so I think it’s probably the most popular film among other films of mine. Masahiko Kikuni’s manga is still very popular, so the film still has constant viewers. Therefore, I don’t think it was about society; the change was about myself. Because I’d already done a story that reflects my own adolescence, this time I wanted to create an unshakable and more mature world of some kind of sadomasochism.

 

 

“The films where wonderful things happen

because of having sex are never born in the West”

 

In the last half of the film, there is the impressive sex scene where you and Mr. Nagaoka are playing naked. You two must have strong mutual trust, but how did you create the scenes together?

Mamiya: We had a rehearsal for a week before filming, so we’ve somewhat decided how to move. And then we shot the sex scene on the final day of the shooting, so we were able to develop our mutual trust with each other. Actually I don’t know what Mr. Nagaoka was thinking about [laughs], but I just trusted him from the bottom of my heart. From the process of rehearsal, he was basically leading me.

 

The films of Western culture often depict sex as something inappropriate. But this film depicts sex as something exciting, fun, and very positive.

Shiota: Personally, I wanted to liberate a lot of limitations, but on the other hand, this feels like the origin of Japanese. I wasn’t conscious about it while writing the script, but when we got to Locarno, many people said that this kind of film wouldn’t be created in the West. The Christian culture is rooted in the West, and it has influenced even those people who are not Christian, so even they are not able to look at sex without a sense of guilt and punishment. The stories of the West are always based on guilt and punishment; if someone pursues the pleasure of sex, he or she falls from the society as a consequence, or a wife loses her family because she has an affair, so the films where wonderful things happen because of having sex are never born. That’s what they said.

 

Actually many Nikkatsu Roman Porno films have a sense of the seasons for sex: sex of winter and sex of summer. They pursued a physiological sense of the body. No wonder Shunga was born in that country. Japanese have this special sense that doesn’t separate sex from others, and they verify sex as if they verify everyday. That’s something to be proud of in the world.

 

Sex is just a part of life.

Shiota: Sex of life.

 

Mamiya: Just like drinking some water.

 

Shiota: As if enjoying drinking delicious water.

 

This film was shown in competition at the Locarno International Film Festival. How did the audience accept the film?

Akihiko Shiota

Shiota: The film has shown in several countries, but we had good reputations especially at Locarno. Because Locarno International Film Festival is one of the oldest film festivals, I expected that people would react like, “Why was this soft core porn selected?” But it was the opposite. At the press conference, journalists praised Locarno: the festival is amazing for allowing the film to compete with other films even though some people find it just a common B class porn. In other words, they didn’t recognize whether if it was porn or not in the vulgar sense. They said it’s brilliant, and they evaluated that this film was appropriate enough in the world to compete in the competition.

 

But besides that reputation, people from all over the town came to see the film in Locarno. People liked us very much. Ms. Mamiya was especially popular. She must have been the most popular actress at Locarno at that time.

 

Mamiya: When I was walking through the streets, people would pat my shoulder and old ladies that I didn’t know would grab my arm and vigorously say something in French like, “I saw the film.” I don’t understand French, so I was saying, “Thank you, thank you” in English. That kind of thing happened all the time while I was walking by myself.

 

Shiota: I had that kind of vivid reaction from the audience for the first time. Men and women of all ages talked to us.

 

 

Text & Interview by Taiyo Okamoto

© 2016 NIKKATSU

 

Subway Cinema

Film Society of Lincoln Center