Many will know Tatsumi Kumashiro, the undisputed king of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno, from his acclaimed narratives Ichijo’s Wet Lust (1972) and Woman with Red Hair (1979). But Tatsumi Kumashiro, especially in the early days of Nikkatsu’s erotic cinema, made many more.
In a rural town by the sea, a young man (Toru Ohe) is working as a movie reel carrier for a local movie theatre. Wherever he goes, locals, like Miura (Kunio Shimizu), ask him if he is Katsu. While he is Katsu – now on the run for yakuza and laying low in his hometown, he always denies being him.
The neglected cinema’s owner’s wife, Yuko (Chizuyu Azami), is nevertheless interested in him and his past, but Katsu has no interest in talking. One day, he observes Mitsuo (Kôichi Hori) and Yoko (Rie Nakagawa) making love in the dunes. Not long thereafter, Mitsuo approaches him and tells him he will introduce him to a girl, Sachiko (Moeko Ezawa), to make love with.
Katsu, due to not talking about his past and even denying being Katsu, realizes himself as a mysterious presence within the local community. The fact that Katsu wants to keep his past hidden at all costs and that he has no intention to assume his position as Katsu within the local community is underlined by him attacking his former friend Miura. This attack is nothing other than the physical expression of Katsu’s refusal to be Katsu within the social fabric of his hometown (Narra-note 1).
The fact that Katsu, as this familiar yet mysterious presence, ripples the social fabric is nevertheless evident. The very fact that he is there as “Not-Katsu” influences the people around him. He arouses the cinema’s owner wife’s interest in him, he gets into a fight with Miura, and is even caught watching Yoko and Mitsuo’s act of lovemaking. This position of being Not-Katsu, a position characterized by his wish to remain distant to others, nevertheless leads him to become (sexually) involved with others within the local social fabric (Narra-note 2).
Yuko and her husband (Akira Takahashi) have a less than ideal relationship. Yuko is, de facto, the one who runs the erotic cinema, as her husband, the owner of the cinema, is never there to help her. Even in their private life, her husband appears to be absent, spending time with his other girlfriend. So even though Yuko is surrounded by eroticism in her cinema, her own life is empty of such eroticism. She is, in other words, a woman who feels unloved and is sexually unsatisfied. What Yuko thus demands of Katsu is nothing other than love. When she asks him to stay longer, she asks his love. When she asks him to kiss her, she asks his love. Love and eroticism/sexuality are, at least in the case of Yuko, entwined.
Mitsuo’s offer to introduce Katsu to a girl to make love with is an offer that radically separates love from sex. He assumes Katsu’s voyeuristic act to be communitive of his sexual dissatisfaction/desire and he is, in fact, not wrong. Katsu’s subsequent act with the girl introduced by the boy shows nothing other than that the promise of sexual satisfaction makes him ignore her subjective position. His attempt to make love to her turns into an attempt to rape her. Although it does not make the scene any less disturbing, he stops before fully effacing her subjective refusal and turning her body into a simple masturbatory object (Narra-note 3 (spoiler)).
Due to Tatsumi Kumashiro’s evocative script, Katsu as well as Yoko remain rather opaque for the spectator. While this might annoy some spectators, this opaqueness is, in our view, the strength of the narrative. Yes, at some level, one can understand Katsu as a sexual opportunist, a ‘sex-animal’ self-satisfying himself with whomever, but this opportunism does not explain his interest in Yoko and why he is eager to answer her questions (Narra-note 4). Yoko, for that matter, is the opaquest character of Lovers Are Wet – the sole character the spectator really cannot grasp. Her playful interest in Katsu, while evident throughout the narrative, is never truly explained and is, at a certain level, beyond understanding. The opaqueness of Yoko, is, in our view, the reason why the visual poetry of Kumashiro’s sexually tensive finale becomes powerful and confronting.
Lovers are Wet is composed with a lot of dynamic movement (cine-note 1). Not only Kumashiro’s composition features fluid following and spatial movement, it also features, albeit to a lesser degree, what we could call documentary-like movement. The latter, due to its shakiness – the crude shakiness of framing, gives the fictional narrative a certain realism. It is this avoidance of artful aesthetics, which by itself is an aesthetic choice, that grounds Katsu’s trajectory in a believable context and enables the spectator to fantasmatically assume that Katsu’s narrative could be his own.
The somewhat crude framing of the erotic sequences, by which said sequences receive their aspect of realism, is instrumental in making some erotic encounters truly enticing and others truly disturbing (cine-note 2). The eroticism of the enticing sexual encounters is also function of two other elements. The first element empowering the eroticism of the enticing scenes is the inventive censorship as such – not-showing engages the spectator’s fantasy. The second element, the aspect most instrumental in making the sexual moments erotic, concerns the performances of the female actors as such. In the framing of sexual encounters – and this is true for all these kinds of movies, it is always the woman that is on display; it is the woman who is presented as an object for the spectator to visually ravish. It is therefore not incorrect to state that the eroticism of these scenes mainly depends on the performance of the female actor as such. Luckily, due to the great performances of Rie Nakagawa and Chizuyu Azami, Lovers Are Wet does not disappoint in this regard.
Kumashiro’s Lovers are Wet will baffle spectators, especially due to its evocative and poetically strong finale. Yet, the many interpretations of this narrative have failed to highlight the central element that makes this twisted narrative so confronting: the opaqueness of Yoko as subject. Lovers are Wet is a narrative not only a narrative about the destructiveness of male sexual opportunism, but also about the irreducible opaqueness of the female subject as such.
Narra-note 1: One can only wonder why Katsu decided to lay low in his hometown and not somewhere else.
Narra-note 2: The fact that Katsu wants to remain distant is emphasized by his willingness to be beaten by others and his refusal of accepting help of ‘strangers’.
Narra-note 3: The second time Katsu and the girl meet, Katsu, again driven by anger, does efface her subjective refusal and turns her body into a simple masturbatory object. Let us also not forget the rather disturbing role the couple plays, solely watching while Katsu attempts to rape her.
Narra-note 4: The fact that Katsu is a sexual opportunist is comically evoked in the scene where he advertises the screening of the movie sex-animal on the street.
Cine-note 1: Of course, static moments are present in Kumashiro’s composition as well.
Cine-note 2: The realism of the erotic encounters is also function of how the cut is used. Perceptive spectators will note that Kumashiro’s erotic compositions do not feature that many cuts. It is this choice, the choice to frame the sexual scenes with a concatenation of temporally long shots, that effectively heightens the realism and, in fact, empowers their potential to entice.
Whenever more cuts are applied in the erotic compositions of sexual encounters, these cuts are jump-cuts.