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In the Realm of the Senses – THE CRITERION COLLECTION #466 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 16, 2009 by  



“One of the most controversial, sexually expressive films ever created makes its way to Blu-ray — uncut, uncensored and in High Definition courtesy of THE CRITERION COLLECTION. Over 30-years-old, the Blu-ray looks absolutely fantastic!  No sign of age and just vibrant.

Images courtesy of © 2009 The Criterion Collection. 1976 Argos Films-Oshima Productions All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: In the Realm of the Senses THE CRITERION COLLECTION #466

DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p, Monoraul, Color, in Japanese with English subtitles, 1:66:1 Aspect Ratio

RATED: NC-17

COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION/Argos Films

RELEASE DATE: April 28, 2009

Directed by Nagisa Oshima

Producer: Anatole Dauman

Screenplay: Nagisa Oshima

Cinematography: Hideo Ito

Original Music by Minoru Miki

Editors: Keichi Uraoka, Patrick Sanvion

Cast:

Tatsuya Fuji – Kichizo Ishida

Eiko Matsuda – Sada Abe

Aoi Nakajima – Toku

Meika Seri – Matsuko

Yasuko Matsui – Tagawa Inn Manager

Taiji Tonoyama – Old Beggar

In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), by the always provocative Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, remains one of the most controversial films of all time.  Based on a true incident, it graphically depicts the all-consuming, transcendent – but ultimately destructive – love of a man and woman (Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda) living an era of ever escalating imperialism and governmental control.  Less a work of pornography than of politics, In the Realm of the Senses is a brave, taboo-breaking milestone, still censored in its own country.

In 1976, one of the most controversial and sexually explicit films was revealed to the world.

The film In the Realm of the Senses” (L’Empire des sens/Ai no corrida) could either be seen as sexually artistic or it can be seen as obscene pornography. Anyone who has been fortunate to see an uncut version of the film will see one of the most unique films to hit theaters in Europe and the US at that time.  And even now,  the film to this day continues to be censored in Japan.

What is most interesting for those outside of Japan is to find out that the film is based on a shocking true story about a sexually charged couple  and because of its artistic nature and it’s unique sexual narrative, it was a wise selection by THE CRITERION COLLECTION to give their special treatment for “In the Realm of the Senses” and have it released on both DVD and Blu-ray in high definition.

The storyline of “In the Realm of the Senses” takes place in 1936.  A woman named Sada Abe received attention for erotically asphyxiating her lover, Kichizo Ishida and afterwards cutting off his penis and testicles (and later caught by authorities with her lover’s private parts still in her bag).

But when we hear news like this in modern times, it’s usually done out of spite and anger.  In this case, Abe and Ishida were very much into each other and their passion for sex and that the sex between both of them was just the ultimate pleasure, is just amazing to see depicted on film.  To know that these two individuals lived and breathed sex, this was there past time, their life.

So, what better to capture this true story but to show their sexual intimacy and what better than provocative renegade Japanese director Nagisa Oshima to take on the role of creating this film.  Sure, there are many other films that focus on the actual story of Sada Abe but Oshima, who signified this noveaux of Japanese filmmaking, took things to a different level (as he has done for his other previous films).

Of course, Japan known for it’s strong laws towards censorship against obscenity, Oshima along with producer Anatole Dauman of France would come up with a plan with the film to be shot in Japan but all editing and post-production will be done in France.  So, to avoid any trouble by Japanese authorities, the film would become a French film with a French title but the soul of “In the Realm of the Senses” (L’Empire des sens) is entirely Japanese.

“In the Realm of the Senses” takes place in the mid-30’s and kicks off with Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) who gets a job as a maid for an Inn.  Having received a new job at the Inn, she’s immediately hit on by a female co-worker but when the co-worker finds out she’s interested in men, she takes her to see a man and woman having sex.   The couple happens to be the Inn owners Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) and his wife Toku (Aoi Nakajima).  Sada looks with curiosity and interest.

One day as Sada Abe is walking with the other women to work, she sees a bum sitting with his legs and penis exposed.  Kids playing while holding their Japanese flags are amused by the man who is sleeping with his penis hanging out that they prod it with their flags and throw snowballs at it.  When the man comes to, he sees Sada and immediately feels that he remembers her.  That he is one of her clients and he went to visit her for a quick time of sex.

Sada meets him secretly in the back and about to give him a quick sexual favor for cash and we learn that Sada’s past was definitely somewhat mischievous (in reality, the real Sada Abe was a prostitute who worked at several brothels) but after her boss keeps calling her out as a whore, we see Sada’s anger come through as she grabs a knife and is ready to kill her.

She is eventually is stopped by the Inn owner, Kichizo Ishida who takes a fascination to the Sada and gives her a job to help clean the inn.  But of course, while she’s cleaning, always in the mood for sex, Ishida gets closer to her and immediately does sexual things to her and Sada enjoys it.

Ishida is depicted as a man who constantly yearns for sex, no boundaries that is until he meets Sada Abe, a woman who could meet and satisfy his hunger for sex at the same level (and possibly even more than him).

From this moment on, the two have many, many more sexual encounters and their lovemaking is just the ultimate thing for both of them.  May it be having sex in front of people (typically a geisha and the maids), in public, day, mid-day, afternoon and night, they both have an appetite for sex.

Eventually, both Ishida and Abe move away and Ishida leaves his wife.  They start their new lives at an inn and continue where they left off.  But to make ends meet, Sada would have sexual clients who would pay her a lot of money.  In one scene, because sex is not great with these men like she has it with Ishida, she begs for her client to slap her or pull her hair, so she can feel pain during sex.

As for Ishida, time away from Abe is tough.  So, tough that his hunger for sex has him forcing himself on the maids or even going back to visit his ex-wife.  But of course, this is not good with Sada, while she makes money for them, he is having sex with his wife but both know that they need each other for the best sex.

And so in their pursuit for even better sex, the two start practicing sex with pain and then soon enough, they both experiment with asphyxiation.  While having sex, the asphyxiation has given Ishida a way to have an erection because it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with Sada’s sex drive.  She almost wants it ever hour.

And then one night, while Ishida is just so tired from so much sex and just wants to go to sleep, he realizes that Sada still wants to have sex and each time he tries to sleep, she tries to asphyxiate him in order for him to have an erection.

And from that point on, Sada becomes addicted to the asphyxiation and automatic erection that she now feels that when Ishida ever gets tired to have sex, she can choke him and continue to have sex even if he wants to fall asleep.  But of course, on one evening, Sada’s constant hunger for sex makes her lover pay the ultimate price.  But it was not out of malice, Ishida pays the ultimate price, his gift to Sada in order to pleasure her.

And the story of what Sada did afterwards is well-publicized.  But despite how horrific this may seem to others, Japanese felt sympathy for her.  Even the judicial system felt leniency and in reality had her released after serving four out of her six years.

As unique as this film by Oshima truly is, watching it in high definition is even more special and just fantastic to watch and hear.  Over 30 years later and this film just screams of vibrancy and beauty.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

What I enjoy about release from THE CRITERION COLLECTION is that the company presents a film in its original aspect ratio and cleaning the film up and giving us a fantastic release.   I haven’t been disappointed yet and for those who are wondering about “In the Realm of the Senses”, you definitely won’t be disappointed.

For a film that came out back in 1976, the picture quality is absolutely fantastic.  “In the Realm of the Senses” is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:66:1.  The new high definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.

So, with the restoration, their is awesome vibrancy with the color scheme.  Colors pop out and detail is much more evident.  I was simply amazed because again, this is a 1976 film and I’ve seen films created ten years ago on Blu-ray that doesn’t have this high level of detail and color vibrancy.  “In the Realm of the Senses” looks absolutely beautiful.  I don’t recall seeing any low light noise or terrible artifacting in the blacks.  If anything, bringing this film to Blu-ray and in High Definition really gives us a definitive and quality version of the film.  Again, picture quality is magnificent!

As for audio, the film is presented in its original monaural format, the soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from an optical soundtrack negative.  Pops, crackle, hiss and hum were reduced with an array of audio restoration techniques.

The film is primarily a dialogue-based film and of course, with sex being a big part of the audio soundtrack, this is not exactly a film you want blasting through your home theater system for the neighbors to hear.  But overall, audio is heard very clearly clearly, may it be the dialogue, the shamisen playing or the excitement during the sex scenes.   Audio is front channel heavy and is presented in its original Japanese language and English subtitles.

The commentary track (which I’ll talk about more in the special features) is also clear and utilizes the rear surrounds, so while normal audio is playing, you can hear Tony Rayns voice quite well.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New Audio Commentary featuring film critic Tony Rayns – Very interesting commentary by Tony Rayns who actually talks about Japanese history and its correlation to the film, the real life story of Sada Abe and key differences of what transpired in reality and the film, symbolism and much more.  Very informative and enjoyable commentary.
  • New Interview with Actor Tatsuya Fuji – This interview which lasts around 17 minutes long was shot in 2008 for THE CRITERION COLLECTION.  Fuji talks about how he got involved with the film, working with Oshima and Eiko Matsuda and how he feels about the film.  Also, an interesting story how Oshima approached Fuji about eliminating the scene with Fuji walking past the Japanese soldiers but Fuji wanted the scene to stay.  Very cool interview.
  • A 1976 interview with Director Nagisa Oshima and actors Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda – A classic interview from 1976 with a Belgian TV show.  Nearly six minutes long, Oshima answers questions in regards to this film’s pornographic nature and Matsuda talks about getting the role to play Sada.
  • Recalling the Film – A 2003 interview with consulting producer Hayao Shibata, line producer Koji Wakamatsu, assistant director Yoichi Sai and film distributor Yoko Asakura. Around 40-minutes long, this interview is actually quite interesting as some of the crew members talked about how things were behind-the-scenes.  The stress of working on the film, working with Oshima, how everything came to be.  Very interesting of how Japanese and French crews were together, near fights between crew and Oshima and how they borrowed money from a loan shark to help finance the film earlier in the beginning.
  • Deleted footage – Around 12 minutes of deleted footage.  Producer Anatole Dauman shortened a few scenes.  The shots in the final cut are present in black and white while the cut scenes are featured in color.  Most of the scenes were just long footage of the lovemaking that was not needed.
  • US Trailer – The original 1976 trailer, aged and full of grain, dust and noise.  Makes you respect how clean THE CRITERION COLLECTION picture quality is for the film.
  • A booklet featuring an essay by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie and reprinted interview with Oshima – The booklets feature a lengthy essay by film scholar Donald Richie.  Well-written, informative of the process of the actual filmmaking, the court trial, how it was received in Japan, Europe and the US and more.  Very informative!  The interview with Oshima was also quite interesting to read as you get good insight into the mindset of Oshima, from before the film, to the casting of the two main talents and how the film had to be shipped to France and the crew feeling uneasy because they couldn’t see the final edits because of the obscenity laws in Japan.

There has been a few movies in Japan that have been based on the storyline of Sada Abe but Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” is the only film that focuses on the sex and the relationship between both Sada Abe and her lover Kichizo Ishida.  It captures their sexual exploits and how it starts to become more extreme.

But as controversial this film was because of its sexual content, the story of what took place from the filming, to post-production and after the film’s release is also an exciting story covered in this release.

Because of the sexual freedom that has went on in the mid-70’s and America legalizing pornography, there have been a good number of sexual films that pushed the button of obscenity.  Mainly because no one had a clear cut guide of what is the legal definition of obscenity.

For Oshima, the obscenity law in Japan was invented so people will avoid of thinking about sex directly but for this film, Oshima’s goal was to have people think about sex directly but by showing that his film is not pornography and it is not obscene.

So, you may be wondering about what makes this film so controversial?  Well, the best way to explain it features full-frontal nudity and the talent in the film engage in actual sex.  All types of sex from intercourse, oral, objects being inserted…you get the picture. There’s more scenes that are quite graphic and some that may not go so well with the Western audience but again, it all depends on a person’s perception and what they are able to take in.

Is this film a pornographic film?  Where pornography is focused on a quick act for the achieving sexual thrills for the viewer and people don’t exactly watch for its acting or storyline, “In the Realm of the Senses” is not a film that can be considered pornographic.  This is a full-feature film with talent, it’s just that instead of faking love scenes, Oshima known for pushing the envelope and known for daring to be unique and different, does accomplish that with this film.

These sexual exploits are true and are based on an actual true story.  If you are going to focus on the sex between a couple, you can’t skip on the details, you have to make it as real as possible.

Personally, I can see the two different perspectives of the different viewers.  One who looks at artistic freedom and the ability for the talent who are doing their job in making a film quite realistic and making sure the sexual narrative is the main focal point.  Then I can see the other side who will watch this film and think it’s a film about a string of sexual scenes with little narrative.  This film and everything from photos or artwork at an art exhibit can always be criticized as pornography but it all comes down to one’s interpretation of pornography.

For me, “In the Realm of the Senses” was not pornographic.  Shocking, to see certain sex acts…yes.  But watching it, it was more in awe of how these two individuals would go so far into their sexual exploits and in the end, watching the tear fall from Ishida’s face, knowing that he can no longer be at the level of pleasing his wife as he would like and thus gives his life for her.  And of course, the final moment which many Japanese who were familiar with the case know that because her love of the sex, she wanted to keep him close to her and thus she does the unthinkable.

In reality, people and the Japanese justice system sympathized with Abe and thus a six year sentence was reduced to four years.  This was not murder, she did it out of love.  As twisted as it may seem, there were not ulterior motives.  This is how Ishida and Abe preferred to live their life together.  A life full of sex.

This is not a romantic film about two people in love.  This is a film about two people in love with having sex with each other to the extreme.

Sada and Kichizo’s sexual interest in each other is shocking and the way it’s finely acted by both Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji is just amazing.

You learn from the special features and the included booklet of how Matsuda was ready to do her role but for the casting of the male lead, this was very difficult because most male talent approached didn’t want to have real sex or have their penis shown.  Some who felt inadequate about the size.  But for TV and film talent, Tatsuya Fuji to bravely take on the role and what he was able to accomplish was quite brave (especially learning how no male actor in Japan wanted to step up this role).

The same for Matsuda who was always in the buff, having sex and performing sex and the film crew were not looking for an actress who has done hard or soft-core films, they wanted an actress who can be believable as the Sada Abe and sure enough, she pulled it off.

Because of the subject matter, this film is not for everyone but for those with an open mind and willing to watch this film and see where Oshima is coming from in creating such a story and to know that it’s based on actual people, you can see how sex can be quite destructive.

“In the Realm of the Senses” is indeed a controversial film but it’s also unique for its content and its overall storyline/direction.   But what really made this film much more enjoyable was what THE CRITERION COLLECTION did in order to bring it stateside, uncut and feature it in incredible picture quality.

As for the Blu-ray release, for a 1976 film, “In the Realm of the Senses” looks fantastic.  And continues THE CRITERION COLLECTION’s dedication to releasing quality releases.  The film which is over 30-years-old doesn’t even show its age.  In fact, when watching the special features and seeing actor Tatsuya Fuji in 2008, you would never think that 30-years have passed.  That’s how good this film looks on Blu-ray.

Overall, “In the Realm of the Senses” is a film that is an interesting pick for release by THE CRITERION COLLECTION and overall, happy with the overall quality and the fact that they did decide to bring this film to the US.  It’s one of those films that viewers will be in awe but want to watch it all the way through and those who will feel that this film is just pornography with a better story and cinematography.

All in all, for those open for something different, highly sexual and controversial for a film, “In the Realm of the Senses” is definitely a Blu-ray release for the adults that is worth trying!






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