I remember seeing ‘In the Realm of the Senses‘ at the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill back in the plaistocene age (1985 or thereabouts), the atmosphere in the cinema somewhat tense as it was COMPLETELY toe-curlingly empty bar me, my then husband and some oddball in a dirty Mac rustling about in the row directly behind us. The Gate was owned by the late David Stone, a charismatic American film producer who’d acquired this widely banned film back in 1976 and was thus able to show it as long as it was under the aegis of a film club rather than regular performance. To my great surprise watching it again, it hasn’t dated at all. It is of course beautifully shot and lit, endless rustling kimonos and slow falling snow, the sound of wooden clogs tip-tapping along wooden walkways here, the plaintive sound of a stringed instrument being manipulated there.

Despite its famously candid sexuality (the characters frequently have sex while being observed or while surrounded by other people) and the fact it is clearly in real time and not simulated, it is very un-porny. Maybe because the characters are ivory-skinned, slender Asians with messy pubic hair rather than depilated, aggressively bronzed Californian hardbodies? There’s no storyline as such; the characters appear totally uninterested in discovering anything about each other’s background – which in a way is how you keep it fresh. Once you get bogged down in all that couple-y history and reality of everyday life, the hot monkey-sex soon wears off.

As their love-making becomes more and more intense, they find themselves unable to separate themselves from each other, until every waking hour is spent in more and more dangerous sexual acts with Sada, the female protagonist, despite initially being quite doll-like and pliable, becoming more and more of the aggressor. Finally, for the ultimate in eroticism, Kizicho, the male character, agrees to be strangled during sexual ecstasy to enhance his orgasm. Based on true events, it ends with her severing his penis.

Originally released in 1976, Nagisa Oshima’sIn the Realm of the Senses’ is still banned for obscenity in its director’s native country, Japan. Based on a real 1936 incident in which a woman named Sada Abe erotically strangled her lover, cut off his penis and testicles, and carried them around until her arrest, Oshima’s film does more than just attack the mores of Japanese society. It also breaks down notions of obscenity.

Apparently pubic hair is routinely blurred out in Japanese porno films and ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ remains unavailable in Japan, making it a still relevant and subversive film so many years later.

In the Realm of the Senses
Written & Directed by Nagisa Ôshima
Starring Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda and Aoi Nakajima

UK Blu-Ray Premiere on 17th October 2011
New uncut version available in Double Play disc set

In The Realm of the Senses‘ has been passed uncut by the BBFC for the first time.

Blu-Ray Extras consist of :
Recalling the Film: 2003 Program featuring interviews with consulting producer Hayao Shibata, line producer Koji Wakamatsu, assistant disrector Yoichi Sai and distributer Yoko Asakura
Panel discussion at Birkbeck College with Japanese film scholars
Once Upon a Time: ‘In the Realm of the Senses

Certificate: 18
RRP: £22.99

Words by Anna Bang

Tags

Aoi Nakajima, David Stone, Eiko Matsuda, In the Realm of the Senses, Nagisa Oshima, Tatsuya Fuji, the Gate,