There were a few things you could count on with one Nikkatsu’s “Roman Porno” sexploitation flicks.  The first was that there would be at least on instance of sex and/or nudity every reel, without fail.  The other was that the film in question would have a short running time, almost always within the 65 to 90 minute range and the majority in the 70 to 80 minute range.  Beyond that, viewers had to expect the unexpected because these films never hesitated to throw out the rulebook on conventional cinematic storytelling.

Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger is a perfect example of the flagrant rulebreaking at play in Nikkatsu Roman Porno filmmaking.  It seems to start off with a reasonable enough plot:  Ryoko (Etsuko Hara) is a nurse who keeps the titular diary as she moves out of a nurse’s dorm and gets an apartment to begin a new phase of her life.  Unfortunately, she’s got some problems to cope with: she’s in love with a married doctor (Hiroshi Unayama) who vacillates on his commitment to their affair and she’s also got a sexually confused nymphet of a nurse (Megu Kawashima) who has fallen in love with her.

However, Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger isn’t content to stick to one simple approach.  The first half-hour is dominated by the kind of smutty humor one associates with British sex comedies of the 1970’s, complete with a gag where one horny character gets his wedding tackle stuck in a vacuum cleaner and semi-rape scenes played for smutty laughs.

However, the film starts throwing the viewer curveballs after this setup. The first is a scene where Ryoko, heartbroken over her faltering affair, seduces her lonely virginal neighbor.  It’s played for artsy melodrama, complete with realistically awkward lovemaking and Hara giving a running monologue about why her lover reminds her of her father.  It’s acted in an effectively straight-faced way by the actors, directed with moody visuals and the end result is strangely moving.  In short, it’s the last thing you’d expect in a movie like this.

And from there, Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger spins into a fascinating sort of chaos as it plays like a soapy melodrama for one stretch, then shifts into pure sexploitation, then veers into over-the-top comedy that suggests the filmmakers are satirizing the Nikkatsu Roman Porno style itself (a crazed pileup of three or four subplots near the end might have the viewer believing they are watching an SCTV sendup of sexploitation films).

However, the biggest surprise is how compulsively watchable the film is despite the constant shifts in tone and storytelling approach.  Two elements anchor the film.  The first is Shinichi Shiratori’s direction, which remains crisply paced and slick no matter what is going on.  The second is Hara, who is not only lovely to look at but a versatile performer who handles both the comedic and dramatic elements with aplomb.  The professionalism of this duo makes the storyline’s contortions fun to sift through – and the fact that you never know what the next scene will bring ensures that Nurse Diary: Wicked Finger remains compelling right up to the end titles.

DVD Notes: this title makes it U.S. DVD debut courtesy of Impulse Pictures, who do another fine job here.  The anamorphic transfer is suitably sleek, offering strong colors and detail for an SD presentation, and the newly-translated English subtitles ensure you won’t a miss a moment of crazed dialogue.  A short but sex-crazed theatrical trailer is also included.  However, the key extra here is an liner notes insert penned by pink-film expert Jasper Sharp.  In two pages, he sizes up the history of the nurse sexploitation subgenre at Nikkatsu as well as offering plentiful info on the careers of Hara and Shiratori.