Original release: September 15th, 1976
Running time: 101 minutes
Country of origin: Japan/France
Original language: Japanese
Writer and director: Nagisa Oshima
Composer: Yann Tiersen
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda
In the throes of passion and at the edge of ecstasy we do nothing but embrace it with all our might, racing toward it with abandon, for the taste of that little moment… But yet a film like In the Realm of the Senses, which so beautifully depicts those moments, has been met with opposition since it was first released back in 1975.
In the U.S. it was seized by customs and in the UK it suffered heavily from cuts and its edited version was only shown in private cinema clubs.
Based on a true story, Nagisa Oshima’s erotic horror In the Realm of the Senses is set in Tokyo in 1936 where Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) and Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) are about to begin one of the most sexually explicit affairs I’ve ever seen played out on screen. Sada, a former prostitute, arrives to work as a maid for Ishida, but when the shy and somewhat sexually repressed girl is molested by him, she finds that instead of being repulsed by the experience, she’s aroused by it.
The pair begin an affair that pushes the boundaries of what some of us would claim is acceptable, not just for viewing but also practising in private with another consenting adult, yet I wonder how many of us secretly fantasise about it. The scenes are extremely arousing and are exquisitely captured here by Oshima.
It wasn’t so much these scenes the censors had such a problem with though. It was the scene where Sada pulls on the penis of a young boy and the dilemma faced was whether or not it constituted as an ‘indecent’ image of a child under the terms of the newly introduced Protection of Children Act 1978. Given that In the Realm of the Senses was already a critically acclaimed film, from an established director, cutting the scene could have damaged its artistic merit:
This is the version we have here and although we don’t see it, we can infer what Sada is doing. It’s a pivotal scene as it highlights something about her character that is central to the story.
As their affair continues, Sada becomes obsessed with Ishida and she can’t get enough of him, she wants him inside of her all the time. When he sleeps, she holds his penis, as they walk together at night, she does the same. Eventually she makes him promise that she will be the only one he enters and forbids him from sex with his wife. Sada will execute a fitting punishment if he breaks his promise.
It is a beautiful film in my opinion, and the story is one of obsession but also of freedom and desire. In the Realm of the Senses makes us ask certain questions about sex and how far we would go if given the chance and I think this is what scares people the most, not how far the characters will go, but how far they themselves might go.
It’s much easier to ban, cut and destroy pieces of work like this than to ask ourselves these questions, but I leave it up to you to decide if In the Realm of the Senses is thought provoking pornography or just beautifully filmed sadomasochistic art.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .