In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Friday, March 16 at Japan Society
Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses still can’t be screened in Japan, but it can—and will—be shown at the Japan Society. The actual story on which Oshima’s screenplay is based, however, doesn’t have quite the folkloric cache in midtown Manhattan as in its land of origin. Most Japanese audiences would know, for instance, that in 1936, a woman called Sada Abe (the title of Noboru Tanaka’s successful film based on the same events), after a week-long sex binge involving toward its end some good-spirited choking, strangled her lover and one-time boss, Kichizo Ishida, with a kimono sash as he slept—then castrated him. Such authentic details were made available by Sada herself, arrested the following day with the relevant bits on her person.
But contrary to censorial expectation of hardcore films, Senses won’t make for titillating watching, even among viewers unaware of Kichi’s impending, biggest death. The relationship of Sada (Eiko Matsuda) and Kichi (Tatsuya Fuji), extended here to several months, may run caustic commentary on the power dynamics of militarizing Japan, but Oshima has pared everything to a story of sex—not sex under a thin sheen of story—leaving no space for eroticism. Instead of close-ups of penetration, we see the increasingly doomed couple drink and copulate in an inn for long, smelly stretches, not eating, parting only so Sada can earn their keep by prostitution. Their other options—and, Oshima suggests, the option of looking away—would be hypocrisy.