#184 In The Realm Of The Senses

愛のコリーダ (Ai No Korida)
(1976, Nagisa Oshima)

“A girl like you can stab a man’s heart without a knife”


WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY MUCH NSFW! (as if that thumbnail didn’t make that obvious)

There’s something odd about Japan’s attitude towards sex. They have a reputation for producing incredibly debauched and outright weird pornography, despite their strict censorship laws that prevent genitalia being shown on camera. On top of this, traditionally there seems to be a bizarre link between sex and death, no more obvious than when, in 1936, former prostitute Sada Abe strangled her lover, Kichizo Ishida, during sex then removed his penis and carried it around with her everywhere.

In The Realm Of The Senses is based on this true story, and is the most sexually explicit movie on the Movies You Must See list. The movie is an account of Sada (Eiko Matsuda) and her affair with Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) leading from his initial sexual advances while she worked as a servant in his home to the eventual murder. And because their relationship was known for being very sexually charged, so is the movie, since a great deal of it features entirely un-simulated sex scenes. That’s right, it’s practically porn.

It’s hard to review this. There is a plot here, but it tends to get buried under the focus on the intense sexual nature of Sada and Kichizo’s relationship, and that means an awful lot o’sexin’. The movie doesn’t waste much time in this, since the first ten minutes feature Sada being groped by a fellow servant before trying and failing to help a tramp get an erection. This is immediately followed by her watching Kichizo and his wife having sex. And it just kind of carries on like this.

What plot there is feels very uncomfortable and awkward. Their relationship begins with Kichizo touching Sada up inappropriately before convincing her to have sex with him before his appointment with a geisha. From there it becomes increasingly intense until escalating into full-blown BDSM and strangulation. This is not an easy movie to watch, not least because it feels like a porn movie so often.

However, not much of the sex is particularly erotic, which kind of ramps up the unintentionally creepy vibe the movie tends to give off. So many sex scenes leave a sense of bafflement, sometimes because of different cultural attitudes in Japan, other times because Sada is downright INSANE. The amount of times she threatens him with a knife or outright says “I will kill you” should be enough to make this guy run a mile, but he doesn’t. He finds it sexy. How is it sexy?! She’s waving a sharp object near your penis! STOP!

Towards the end of the movie I began to think that the movie was turning into a bland but somehow creepier version of Audition with more un-simulated sex. At least Asami stabbing Aoyama with needles wasn’t meant to be sexy, but the strangulation and knives near sensitive body parts almost seemed like it was trying to be, especially with the decision to make the actors actually bonk each other for real.

Have I got anything good to say about In The Realm Of The Senses? The short answer is no. The plot is buried under a heap of genitalia shots, the characters feel underdeveloped (despite being based on real people), and sometimes you just wish the sexin’ would stop for five minutes so that actual movie stuff can happen.

This is a short review, I know. But you try reviewing a movie that’s 105 minutes of un-erotic and occasionally terrifying sex. If Nagisa Oshima set out to make the film uncomfortable, he succeeded, but if he set out to make a sexy movie with an arty element, then he failed spectacularly. I’m gonna need something to bleach my brain after this…

Starring Eiko Matsuda & Tatsuya Fuji
Written by Nagisa Oshima
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Music by Minoru Miki
Cinematography by Hideo Ito
Edited by Keiichi Uraoka

Favourite Scene: The closing scenes reminded me of Audition, but also had the unfortunate side effect of making me wish I’d been watching Audition instead.
Scene That Bugged Me: Could have done without the naked children, thanks. Oh yeah, forgot to mention them, but they’re there, just in case the movie wasn’t as anti-erotic as possible already.

Watch it if: You have a bizarre idea of “erotic”
Avoid it if: You thought it was porn and found your happy time disturbed by sharp objects

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Posted on May 14, 2013, in 1970s, Drama, Japan and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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