[Film Review] In the Realm of the Senses (1976)

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English Title: In the Realm of the Senses
Original Title: Ai no korîda
Year: 1976
Country: Japan, France
Language: Japanese
Genre: Drama, Romance, Biography
Director/Writer: Nagisa Ôshima
Music: Minoru Miki
Cinematography: Hideo Itô
Cast:
Eiko Matsuda
Tatsuya Fuji
Aoi Nakajima
Yasuko Matsui
Taiji Tonoyama
Kanae Kobayashi
Meike Seri
Kyôji Kokonoe
Rating: 8.2/10

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It goes without saying Ôshima’s succès de scandale is not for the squeamish, its blatantly hardcore content (unsimulated sexual activity including fellatio, fornication, and a puckish egg-hatching prank) shatters the last defense of anyone’s reserves about human copulation, thus topples it from its tabooed sanctuary, then demythologizes it with a pretension-free candidness and boldly burrows into the subject of the often oppressed and sidelined female sexuality, yes, it is actually based on a true story occurred in the 1930s.

When Sada Abe (Matsuda), a former prostitute who works as a maid in a hotel in Tokyo, first lays her eyes on her employer Kichizo Ishida (Fuji), it is in the middle of the conjugal duty between him and his wife Toku (Nakajima), a passionless, ritualistic rumpy-pumpy that bewitches her. So when a virile Kichizo takes a fancy to her, something irrepressible is ignited, their illicit affair spreads like wide fire, they stay together in various inns, entertained by sundry geisha, and from then on, Ôshima leverages their indoor activities interrupted only by necessary outings, viz., when Sada has to tide themselves over by way of solicitation, or Kichizo is bound to visit home for a three-day stint. It is these seemingly short separations and its resultant jealousy that torment both, and spur them into more extreme measurements in their sexological exploration, until Sada finds the button of choking Kichizo during penetration to sate her libidinous upswing, whereupon she must keep pushing it.

What mesmerizes viewers is Ôshima’s unsparing portrayal of Sada’s randiness and her ingrained phallus worship, every waking minute she seeks for Kichizo’s private parts, the fact that she completely overpowers him, dominantly rides on him, has him do her bidding, could be any man’s worst nightmare, yet there is truth in the discrepancy between male and female’s orgasms, and what if a man cannot sexually satisfy a woman he loves? A perpetual dread hovering every heterosexual man’s ego and occasioning chasm if mistreated, we must hand it to Ôshima for his audacity to lay it open like this, however radical it looks, and demands us to re-examine the different vibes in man and woman’s sexual equilibrium.

Conversely, all Ôshima’s effort, essentially de-eroticizes and desensitizes sex itself when we are inured to their oversexed indulgence, it is not amorous, not aesthetic, not even orthodoxly arousing, which causes it to be subsumed into an act solely stimulated by primeval desire. If one puts their perversion under the milieu, it can be feasibly read as a resistance towards the ethos of its time, and Ôshima’s anti-militarism disposition writs large in the segment where Kichizo glumly passes by a band of marching army, on the opposite direction with the flag-waving populace.

Both Matsuda and Fuji brave themselves for their controversial roles, an unsparing devotion to the art form even with the foregone conclusion that the film would impinge on their acting careers, while Matsuda thoroughly incarnates Sada’s undue possessiveness, insatiable lust and hellbent conviction of going whole hog, Fuji’s wayward resignation is much more telling in his shiftless head space that disillusion and malaise might be the more pertinent cause behind his destructive behavior, both deserve to be put on a pedestal for their earth-shattering derring-do along with the film itself, a sui generis cause célèbre that throws away human’s last fig leaf to state its sharp-edged point.

referential entries: Ôshima’s MAX, MON AMOUR (1986, 6.9/10), MERRY CHRISTMAS MR. LAWRENCE (1983, 8.5/10).

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