The cultural shock value of Tatsumi Kumashiro's sexy Pink Cinema title may have lost a little in the subsequent decades, but it remains a groovy little B-movie about the Japanese strip club scene in 1972.
Movie Grade: B-
DVD Grade: C+
Director Tatsumi Kumashiro was quite the big name in Japanese cinema in the early 1970s, and he helmed a series of boundary-pushing films known collectively as Roman Porno (a shortened version of the more demure "romantic pornography") for the Nikkatsu Corporation. Nikkatsu was fairly liberal in the freedom it gave its contracted directors, with one of the only requirements being at least four sex/nude scenes per hour, something Kumashiro gladly and expertly obliged.
Perhaps known better internationally as Wet Lust or Wet Desire (Kumashiro had a few films with "wet" in the titles), this 1972 release (known domestically as Sayuri Ichijo: Following Desire) is still highly regarded in Japan as one of the 100 best Japanese films of the 20th century. I don't quite understand that level of fervent adoration, but this is somewhat notable because it stars Sayuri Ichijo, the real-life stripper who plays herself. Yet despite the commanding and sexual presence of Sayuri Ichijo, it's Hiroko Isayama who owns the show here as the spunky upstart rival stripper Harumi, a performance that landed her a Kinema Junpo Best Actress award.
The thing is that decades later Kumashiro's film doesn't really carry the same societal shock value it once did, and now it plays like a polished B-movie. I realize that's probably a statement that would get me tarred-and-feathered in Osaka, but it's not necessarily meant as a knock on Kumashiro. This is more "B-movie as art", because it's one thing to have an actress simply appear nude, while it's quite another to create a dynamic sexual visual on the screen.
Kumashiro does that, and does it well.
He puts a lot of brazen taboo sexuality on display—including audience members being granted genital inspection opportunities of the dancers—and the onstage strip sequences are elaborately stylish, as well as being highly charged and erotic. But in between that sizzle is a lopsided story of Harumi's attempt to usurp Sayuri and her run-ins with the law, complete with some sketchy supporting performances that are awkwardly more shrill than subtle.
Hiroko Isayama, in her tiny dresses she can barely keep on, is simultaneously adorable and unlikable as Harumi, a buoyant conniver hellbent on taking on the iconic Sayuri.
Amidst the hot candle wax and girl-on-girl grappling, Kumashiro also deals with Harumi's need to achieve a certain level of stage moisture in a certain region of her body. This leads to a comical scene where Harumi practices the newly discovered secret method for her boyfriend—only to have him tell her that her attempted expression of pleasure "reminds me of a bowel movement". This all culminates in the film's final shot, an unexpected reveal that borders on absurdly funny didn't-see-that-coming sexual slapstick.
Plenty of skin and the diametrically opposed dueling sexuality of the performances by Hiroko Isayama and Sayuri Ichijo make this Japanese genre title highly watchable.
The 2.35:1 transfer is in surprisingly excellent condition, with strong, natural fleshtones and clean, vibrant colors, and this one certainly doesn't look its vintage. There's minimal print damage, aside from a few sporadic sprocket holes, and the only beef is what appears to be a few missing frames here and there, most notable during some of the strip sequences.
Audio is presented in the original Japanese 2.0 mono, with optional English subs. No issues with dialogue clarity, but voices, however, did seem out of sync at times.
The menu screen retains the original Wet Desire title, as opposed to the Sayuri Ichijo: Following Desire, which was used for the cover for this English release. The only extra found within is the original nudity-filled Japanese-language trailer (02m:12s), available subtitle free for that authentic touch.