Nikkatsu’s “Roman Porno” era required filmmakers to work plenty of sex scenes into their films.  However, once you get past that requirement, these films could be amazingly diverse: they included goofball comedies, serious dramas and even brutal horror.  The stylistic unpredictability was even more pronounced early on, when the rules and approach had not yet had time to coalesce into a formula.  A good example of the latter point is Sex Hunter: Wet Target.  Don’t let the title fool you: though it contains the expected bare flesh and sex, this a moody, grim little piece of work that is more interested in catharsis than titillation.

On a superficial level, Sex Hunter: Wet Target is a revenge story.  The anti-hero of the piece is a half-Japanese, half-black convict named Okamoto (Joji Sawada, using the bizarre pseudonym “George Harrison”).  He’s cooling his heels in jail when he gets the news that his sister was raped and hung from a shrine by a group of rabble-rousing American G.I.’s.  In true Roman Porno style, we are spared none of the brutal details of the rape – in fact, a later flashback reveals added details that make it even more harrowing.

Once Okamoto gets out of jail, he gets a job at a bar the victim used to hang out at and looks for the people responsible.  He discovers a strange criminal netherworld where crooks cater to G.I.’s who have lost their moral compass because they know they are going to die or be crippled in combat – and each person in the story, including Okamto, becomes a victim or a predator, depending on the moment.  As he learns more about his sister’s death, his rage build to a boiling point and culminates in a “paint the whorehouse red” finale.

To call Sex Hunter: Wet Target an angry film would be an understatement.  It seethes with the kind of rage you find in the nastiest, most feral grindhouse fare yet it has the superior production values and technical craft you would expect from a Japanese major studio item.  The mix of style and brutality is pretty heady stuff, particularly in something supposedly aimed at the sexploitation market.

And that’s not the only surprise Sex Hunter: Wet Target has up its sleeve. Despite the film’s two-fisted emphasis on rough sex and rougher violence, Atsushi Yamatoya’s script is extremely political in tone.  The rampaging G.I.’s and the response of the various Japanese characters to their crimes acts provides the grist for good exploitation film drama but it also functions as an allegorical critique of the Japanese-American security treaty.  Like the similarly subversive School Of The Holy Beast, it points an angry finger at the scars America left on the Japanese psyche in the post World War II era – and this subtext adds an extra charge to the brutality on display.

Finally, and most importantly, Sex Hunter: Wet Target plays for keeps.  Yukihiro Sawada’s direction is confident and focused, packing a complex storyline into 69 tight minutes and effectively using flashbacks to not only reveal plot twists but to deepen characterizations.  He gets committed performances from his cast and  never shies away from the story’s ugly excesses, including the casual misogyny of the male characters (including the hero, whose brutalization of one hapless woman late in the story will leave even the toughest grindhouse fans shaking at the knees).  The finale in particular is breathtakingly vicious stuff.

In short, don’t expect a lighthearted sex romp from Sex Hunter: Wet Target.  It’s a mean, nihilistic little film and proof positive that American filmmakers didn’t have a monopoly on grindhouse savagery.

DVD Notes: another fine entry in Impulse’s Nikkatsu Erotic Film Collection.  The anamorphic transfer is amazingly clean and vivid for such an old film.  Extras consist of a typically wild trailer and a booklet with liner notes from pink film expert Jasper Sharp.  The notes are especially good this time, placing the efforts of the film’s writer and director in the context of the many different types of filmmakers who worked at Nikkatsu during their Roman Porno era – fascinating and insightful stuff for anyone interested in these films.