When it came to the golden era of Roman Porno, the late Tatsumi Kumashiro was Nikkatsu’s greatest asset. Beginning with the successful Wet Lips (1972), he directed many of the company’s biggest hits, many that featured “wet” in the title like Ichijo’s Wet Lust (1972), Lovers Are Wet (1973), and the subject of this article…
WOODS ARE WET: WOMAN HELL
original title: 女地獄 森は濡れた (Onna jigoku: mori wa nureta)
Japan, 1973, Tatsumi Kumashiro
Sachiko can’t believe her luck. But of course, things are never that easy. Yoko calmly informs Sachiko that her husband, Ryûnosuke (Hatsuo Yamaya), is a cruel and violent man. Upon meeting Ryûnosuke, it becomes clear that Yoko’s claims were not unfounded… though she has left out the part about how she enjoys cruelty and sexual deviance just as much as her significant other.
The creepy couple keep Sachiko prisoner and enlist her help in the rape and murder of two customers of the inn. In a typical Roman Porno, the customers would be women, but in this case we have two unsuspecting men. Before being dispatched, the men are forced to have sex with Sachiko and Yoko at gunpoint. If that’s not enough, Ryûnosuke joins in, buggering the men from behind before blowing their brains out mid-fuck.
Woods Are Wet: Woman Hell‘s first act is subdued and, while it has an undeniably ominous tone, it certainly doesn’t give any hints of the jaw-dropping depraved hell it will soon transform into. The film’s centrepiece, the rape and murder of the two guests, is shocking not so much in its bloody violence but the creative sadism employed by Yoko and Ryûnosuke.
Set somewhere in the first half of the 20th century, Woods Are Wet is deceptively beautiful. Much of it takes place in darkness, with candlelit rooms and moonlight as the onscreen sources of illumination. Kumashiro flits between claustrophobic close ups and lengthy, unsettling wide shots.
As a creative choice, Kumashiro exaggerates the censorship imposed by the Japanese government. Instead of the usual fogging, Woods Are Wet features intrusive slabs of black that hack out any sight of genitals and pubic hair. While I appreciate Kumashiro’s message, the censorship is extremely frustrating and takes away some of the power from the film’s nastier moments.
The cast perform brilliantly in their roles. Hatsuo Yamaya is perhaps the least interesting as the archetypal pinku sicko, though he deserves credit for maintaining his manic energy in the film’s more uncomfortable and depraved scenes. Hiroko Isayama’s character calls for a more restrained approach and she is quietly excellent. Rie Nakagawa is easily the standout. As the truth about her character is revealed, her entire voice and physicality changes. Early on, she creates much of the film’s tension.
I’ve seen far more repulsive Roman Pornos, but there’s something exceptionally unnerving about Woods Are Wet. The delight that the characters take in death and humiliation, the sudden brutal change in tone, the sweaty piles of boning bodies (both dead and alive) — it’s all very unpleasant. It’s also incredibly well made. Kumashiro mixes sex, death and sadism into the bleakest of tales. This is one Roman Porno I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
Woods Are Wet is available on DVD in Japan, unfortunately with no subtitles. There are, however, fan subs that some lovely person made floating around online.