In the Realm of the Senses
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 102 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Japanese
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: April 28, 2009
Review Date: April 13, 2009
Director Nagisa Oshima encountered controversy with one of his very first films with him at the helm, 1960’s Night and Fog in Japan, and it certainly stayed by his side with the release of In the Realm of the Senses, a film that to this day hasn’t been seen uncut or uncensored in Japan. Based on a true story of an event that happened in 1936, In the Realm of the Senses is often accused of being pornographic. That point is arguable (the director certainly thought it was), but its graphic, matter-of-fact exposé on one woman’s insatiable desire for her lover pulls no punches. It’s an at times haunting biographical psychodrama, but it’s often hard to endure so psychologically (not to mention realistically) naked are its two primary characters. The feelings are viscerally raw and often hard to identify with, but there’s no denying the real art which has gone into bringing this story to the screen.
Recently hired servant Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) becomes fixated on her married boss Kichizo (Tatsuya Fugi), a hotelkeeper in a seemingly happy relationship with his wife (Aoi Nakajima). Soon, however, her youthful and obsessive sexual need for Kichi forces him to leave his wife and go off with Sada whose enthusiastic passion grows so extreme over time that simple lovemaking no longer suffices. The couple then finds it necessary to engage in innumerable sex games fringing into sadomasochism, all in an attempt to satisfy the unquenchable thirst Sada has for Kichi.
Though there are other characters in the movie, director Oshima’s camera spends a vast majority of the film’s running time exploring every inch of the bodies of his two leading players. The sex scenes are in-your-face real and have been staged and shot in a variety of long, medium, and close shots that, by the end, have become somewhat repetitive and definitely exhausting. Also a little too overdone are the foreshadowings of the violence to come that the director has sprinkled throughout the movie. How many scissors, knives, and razors (or how much blood either in real life or in Sada’s erotic fantasies) do we need to see to understand the upcoming symbolic castration at the moment when Sada’s overwhelming passion for Kischi can no longer be satiated? Ironically, the director’s final fantasy for Sada is one of the film’s most startling and revelatory visual moments, and it doesn‘t involve anything violent or anyone‘s bodily fluids.
Words can’t express enough admiration for Tatsuya Fugi and especially Eiko Matsuda’s brave performances as this cosmically bound-but-doomed couple. Neither seems to have the slightest hang-ups about the vast array of sex acts they’re asked to perform, either with themselves or with other cast members, and that kind of commitment to one’s art is rare, especially in light of In the Realm of the Senses being Eiko Matsuda’s first film. She is simply astounding.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in an anamorphic transfer of sensational quality. Color is very rich, and the image is very sharp with especially realistic flesh tones. Some tight line structures late in the movie appear to be on the verge of some slight shimmer, but they never actually do. Otherwise, there are no digital artifacts, surprising for a film more than thirty years old. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
The film’s Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is fairly typical for its era. There is some flutter to be heard off and on during the film’s quieter moments, and some of the music played on the set during filming occasionally has a shrill timbre that’s momentarily off-putting.
The disc contains an excellent audio commentary by film critic Tony Rayns. Not deigning to speak about the nature of the sex acts on display in the movie, he fills the running time with far more interesting stories about the director’s career and some of the political implications that the film conveyed both at the time of its making and even today.
Three interviews are included with the set. A 1976 interview with the director and his two stars (though Fugi never gets a chance to speak) was filmed in Brussels for television broadcast there and runs 5 ½ minutes. A 2008 interview with Tatsuya Fugi runs 17 ¼ minutes in anamorphic widescreen. He describes how he got the role and relates some production stories with fondness for the film and the director. “Recalling the Film” finds four key behind-the-scenes personnel discussing the curious story behind the making of the movie, the ease in casting the leading female role and the difficulty in finding the principal male role’s performer, and the legendary censorship troubles the film has faced. This feature filmed in 2003 runs 38 ¾ minutes and is in 4:3.
Six deleted scenes from the movie are presented within the framework of the sequences from which they were removed. The deleted footage is presented in color while the parts of the scene which remained in the finished film are in black and white. This 12 ¼ minute sequence is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
A less than pristine theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in nonanamorphic letterbox.
An enclosed 38-page booklet contains a chapter listing, cast and crew lists, a selection of vivid color stills, a background essay on the director and the film by Japanese film expert Donald Ritchie, and excerpts from an interview by director Nagisa Oshima that appeared in the Japanese magazine Image Forum.
Not for all tastes but no more pornographic than Last Tango in Paris was (though perhaps more obviously graphic while dealing with somewhat similar themes of sexual obsession), In the Realm of the Senses comes to the Criterion Collection in a beautifully produced DVD package. It isn’t a film I’d be eager to revisit soon, but others may find it hypnotic and even at times erotic. For them, this is a set that will be most welcome.