For fans of the Roman Porno genre Tanaka Noboru is definitely not one of the forgotten directors. Actually, with narratives like A Woman Called Sada Abe (1975), Watcher in the Attic (1976) and Woman on the Night Train (1972), many would consider him one of the masters of the genre, a director that fully exploited the social and psychological possibilities of the genre.
Therefore, before we get the chance to review Dawn of the Felines (2016), the modern re-imagining of this narrative, we delve into what is often considered one of the early classics of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno.
At ‘Turkish Paradise’, a bathhouse run by the Yakuza in downtown Tokyo, women provide various erotic and sexual services for men. One of the women working there is Masako (Tomoko Katsura). One day, she starts a sexual relationship with Honda (Ken Yoshizawa), her bisexual neighbour. Honda’s other lover is Makoto (Hidetoshi Kagayama), a young male prostitute who recently fell in love with a wealthy young woman. But, as he has never made love to a women, the coming sexual get together fills him with anxiety.
The narrative of Night of The Felines is a narrative that concerns men as much as it concerns women. It aims to provide an exploration of the men and women as linked by sexuality as well as by money. One of the first things the narrative uncovers is the contrast between the male (i.e. the costumer) and female (i.e. the service provider) viewpoint with respect to the bathhouse. While for men these sexual and erotic services are nothing but a masturbatory satisfaction for their body as well as for their ego – they, as subject, invest in these pleasures and in the captivating women providing them, these services are but a job for women. Even though the narrative provide exceptions, these women are in general not subjectively entangled in the services they provide.
The wish to present a diverse tapestry of some of these women is also evident in the narrative’s exploration of how this branch of work intermingles with the dreams and hopes of these women. Besides unfolding the main narrative of Masako and Makoto, the narrative is littered with interesting little vignettes, investigating this lifestyle in a lighthearted way. Nevertheless, these vignettes quickly reveal that money is the central point around which women (as well as some men) gravitate (narra-note 1). Additionally, throughout these explorations the different positions men (are able to) occupy are shown, providing an interesting insight in the reasons and the often “fetishistic” requests of these men.
The cinematography of Night of The Felines is mainly a standard affair. Fluidity is attained by using various techniques like traveling shots, (often crude) following shots, and – some might considered the following techniques outdated – zoom-ins/zoom-outs (cine-note 1). Nevertheless, the latter techniques is applied in an unobtrusive way and, as such, blends smoothly into the cinematographical ensemble. And even though some cinematographical choices are questionable, some of Noboru’s shot compositions and poetic shots really underline his talent to turn the narrative into a pleasing cinematographical whole (Cine-note 2).
Tomoko Katsura’s performance as Masako is natural, charming, and, by way of Tanaka Noboru’s cinematographical investigation of her naked body, downright sensual. By underlining the elegance of her body, whether she works at the bathhouse or does household chores topless, the narrative receives a sensuality that lingers throughout and successfully charms male audiences. And we shouldn’t forget to mention the performances of the other actresses – and the framing of their bodies, each instrumental in keeping the sensuality and eroticism the narrative oozes flowing (Acting-note 1).
While Night of the Felines may start off rather lighthearted, exploring the hopes and dreams of the women working at a Turkish bath with a sense of comedic lightness, the main narrative thread concerning Makoto turns, by way of Noboru’s cinematographical poetry, into a very moving and touching finale. By exploring the problematic field conditioned by sexuality and money, Night of The Felines becomes more than just a flimsy tribute to sensuality and eroticism. In short, it earns its place as a true classic of the Roman Porno genre.
Cine-note 1: With traveling shot, we mean a shot that travels through the narrative space.
Cine-Note 2: One such odd choice is the shaky travelling shot in the streets that finally focuses on Masako. This shot implies narrative
Narra-note 1: Omitsu is gathering money to open her own beauty salon. Sen-chan is visited by her boyfriend, Ken, who only wants to lend some money.
Acting-note 1: Furthermore, Hidetoshi Kagayama’s performance as the childlike Makoto is great. He has some great moments or nudity – pleasing for a women’s eye – and his uncertainty to make love to a woman for the first time is truly endearing.