In the Realm of the Senses
R4 - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (11th February 2017).
The Film

“In the Realm of the Senses”「愛のコリーダ」 (1976)

On May 19th, 1936, police officers went to an inn where suspect Sada Abe was supposedly staying at under a pseudonym. When the police entered her room, she was not surprised and calmly said that she was Sada Abe and she was the one they were looking for. To provide her own proof, she showed them the severed penis and testicles of her lover Kichizo Ishida, who was killed the day before. The story of her act of sexual dismemberment and murder filled the newspapers of the day to an almost mythical way. The trial a few months later was the talk of all the public, in which she was only given a sentence of six years in prison for murder in the second degree and mutilation of a corpse. With the incident and the sentencing, Sada became a figure for feminists, artists, philosophers, people dismayed with the judicial system, and even avid readers as her confession transcripts became a bestseller.

While people were fascinated, shocked, and disgusted about the incident, the bigger story was why it happened. Sada was a 30 year old prostitute in Tokyo where she met the 42 year old married Kichizo Ichikawa, a restauranteur. Their sexual relationship started in April of 1936 and for the month they were together they were nearly inseparable. Their encounters started as short flings but later became days on end holing themselves up in inns around Tokyo, with Kichizo not returning home. Their sessions became more aggressive and dangerous, experimenting with asphyxiation and bondage, and according to Sada the final act of strangulation was in part due to her jealousy of Kichizo going home to be with his wife. As for severing his penis and testicles, it was a way of her to be with him forever and not to be shared with anyone else. After the act of dismemberment, she wrote with his blood on his chest:

「定、石田の吉 二人キリ」 (Sada, Kichizo Ishida alone together)

40 years later, filmmaker Nagisa Oshima took to making the Sada Abe story into feature film. While visiting Europe for film festivals, Oshima met French producer Anatole Dauman who was interested in financing and producing a film for Oshima. One of the ideas Oshima had was to make a film about the “Abe Sada Incident” in 1936, but was not sure about how to make the film around it and with restrictions of nudity and sexuality on film in Japan. By the early 1970s erotic films started to dominate the theatrical market due to the rise of television. There were guidelines such as no public areas or genitals of men or women could be shown, but that led to filmmakers to become creative in their ways to “not show” sex on film. But when in 1975 the laws for pornographic material eased in France, Oshima felt he could truly make a film about the incident without restrictions. As he wanted to concentrate on the passion of the two characters and their intense sexual encounters with the final act of violence as the ultimate sexual act, he felt the sexual acts had to be portrayed without masking or cutaways - by having unsimulated acts on film. Finding actors to play the parts would prove difficult do to the sexual acts that had to be truly portrayed. For the part of Kichizo, producer Koji Wakamatsu pushed to get established actor Tatsuya Fuji to play the role. Already a veteran of films for almost 15 years, the actor was first hesitant about the part but agreed because of the script and the chance to work with the established Oshima. For the role of Sada, Eiko Matsuda was chosen. While she was acting in underground theater she had only two film acting credits to her name in minor roles (one of them being “Stray Cat Rock: Machine Animal” (1970) which co-starred Tatsuya Fuji), Matsuda was given her first starring role as Sada.

The film was titled “Ai no corrida” in Japan - meaning “Bullfight of Love”, with the word “Corrida” being Spanish. In France it was titled “L'Empire des sens” - meaning “Empire of Senses”, and the official English title was “In the Realm of the Senses”. “Love” and “Sensuality” were the main feelings behind the production rather than the grotesqueness that some may envision. Oshima focused on the one month relationship between Sada and Kichizo and not including backstories or about the aftermath, therefore the sex was in full focus and nothing was censored. Full frontal nudity with penetration and fellatio scenes were filmed, and while that itself may have been taboo-breaking for Japanese film, there were a few other sexual scenes that may even surprise viewers to this day - such as when Kichizo licks his fingers which have blood from Sada’s period, when he inserts an egg into her vagina, and some of the rape scenes. Even though the film is filled with sex, it is in context with the story and it does not feel gratuitous or sexually arousing. The viewers are more in tune with the feelings of the two protagonists rather than an average pornographic movie which story and acting are virtually non-existant. Oshima’s film is about the characters - how they evolve into sexual deviants and their reflection of frustration turns to violence as they experiment more with harder and more violent acts on each other. Not all is simply love with the couple. Sada is jealous that Kichizo is still married. Kichizo also turns to jealousy when Sada still has clients to serve. Oshima tried to contact the real Sada Abe who became a nun and was 75 years old at the time. She was not to return to the limelight and it is unknown when she (or if) died.

There are some changes from the true story and the film’s version. In the film Sada is a young newcomer in her early twenties (as was the actress) while in real life she was already 30 and had been in the business for some time. The client that Sada must meet is a school principal in the film but in reality was a politician whose career was essentially destroyed after the incident. Regardless of the minor changes, the story of their intense encounters was left mostly as is. Oshima created an unusual work of hardcore pornography that is equally an art film. The finished product was unlike the sleazy European films of the 1970s and was unlike the erotic films of Japan as it included unmasked hardcore scenes. The finished film was screened at various festivals in 1976 including Cannes, Berlin, Chicago, and New York where it met with controversy in almost every place it was screened. The film was banned from screening in several countries or with cuts in place. In the UK, the scene of the young boy having his penis tugged by Sada was the main source of controversy with the Protection of Children Act. The same scene had to be cut for the US release. Australia had 4 minutes removed. In Japan the film had 5 minutes of footage removed and optical censorship applied. In later years, many of the cuts or bans have been waived. The US has had an uncut release in addition to the X rated (later NC-17) release. Australia passed it uncut in 2001 and the UK passed it uncut in 2011. In Japan in 2000 the film was restored and reissued to theaters in a “complete” form, which reinstated the previously cut 5 minutes, but unfortunately all scenes featuring genitalia were censored with mosaic. To this day the fully uncut version of the film is not available in its home country. Even though the film is still mostly known for the penis dismemberment scene and intense sexual scenes along with the controversy, it still had very positive reviews and became a financial success around the world. In Japan it was successful even in its censored form, but it was beaten to the race by another film made about the same subject by Nikkatsu studios, titled “A Woman Called Abe Sada”, which focused on the life of Abe in flashbacks and not being as explicit. Both films were highly praised adult films with both productions being within the top 10 grossers of the year.

Tatsuya Fuji would later work for Oshima again on the director’s subsequent film “Empire of Passion” and furthering his career with more than 100 film and television productions to date, working with directors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takeshi Kitano in the more recent years. Eiko Matsuda’s career stalled unfortunately, and she disappeared from the entertainment world a few years later. She died on March 9th, 2011 from cancer at the age of 58. Line producer Koji Wakamatsu was already a controversial figure as a producer and director since the 1960s and he continued making provocative independent work throughout the years with his latter films such as “United Red Army” (2007), “Caterpillar” (2010), and “11.25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate” (2012) being highly regarded works both in Japan and abroad. Sadly he was killed on October 17th 2012 after being hit by a taxi. Nagisa Oshima had already been a controversial filmmaker by the time he made “In the Realm of the Senses” with films such as “Death by Hanging” (1968) in which he looked at racism and the death penalty and “Night and Fog in Japan” (1960) taking a stab at politics. Following “In the Realm of the Senses” Oshima achieved further success with “Empire of Passion” (1978), “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), and his final film “Taboo” (1999). Oshima died on January 15th, 2013 from pneumonia at the age of 80.

Note this is a region 2/4/7 PAL format DVD.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in non-anamorphic 1.59:1 widescreen in the PAL format. The transfer is from an old master and it has its issues. The original aspect ratio was 1.66:1 so the picture is very slightly cropped. Since this is a non-anamorphic transfer there are black bars on the top and bottom of the frame and when viewed on a widescreen TV, there are black bars on all sides of the frame. Colors are not as sharp as they could be and some skin tones and brighter colors are slightly muted and faded. As for better points there are no major issues of dust, debris, or scratches on the print so the transfer is relatively clean.

Another note to be said that is troublesome is that the film is slightly cut. The scene in which the young boy’s penis is grabbed has been optically reframed and zoomed in so the boy’s face is seen but the action by Sada is not. Because of the zooming the few seconds look extremely blurry. This is identical to the framing on the older UK release but strangely this was NOT censored on the previous Australian Madman DVD release. Considering the film has a high definition master prepared and has had Blu-ray releases of the uncut theatrical version in the US, UK, France, and Germany, it’s a shame that Umbrella Entertainment has not issued the film on Blu-ray yet.

The film’s runtime is 97:41 which is the theatrical version or “producer’s cut”, with the original French language credits. Prior to the theatrical screenings, producer Anatole Dauman trimmed six scenes down. This version with the scenes trimmed was approved by director Nagisa Oshima.

Audio

Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono
The original mono track is offered in dual channel Dolby Digital. The film is a dialogue heavy one with subtle music cues, and the track is fine but does not have much in terms of depth. Dialogue is clear and so is the music, with no troubles of dropouts or other damage, but compared to the uncut US Criterion release, it is certainly lacking in fidelity.

There are burned-in English subtitles for the main feature in a white font. The non-removable subtitles are well timed with a fine translation, but being burned-in to the image it does get negative points of obscuring the original image.

Extras

"Cinema and Censorship: The Films of Nagisa Oshima" a discussion with Solrun Hoaas (39:35)
Norwegian born Hoaas studied in Kyoto during the 1960s and later became a lecturer on film and filmmaker in her later years. In this video essay and interview, she talks about Oshima’s life, his filmography, and about the changing attitudes in Japanese society and in Japanese cinema during the time period. Hoaas died on December 11th 2009 at the age of 66. There are multiple clips of Oshima’s films in this video essay but many of the films are squeezed, stretched, or cropped to the wrong aspect ratio. This extra is also featured on the Umbrella DVD of “Empire of Passion”.
in 576i PAL, in non-anamorphic 1.33:1, in English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with burned-in English subtitles for the Japanese portions

Bonus Trailers
- "La Bęte" (3:31)
- "A Short Film About Killing" (2:36)
- "A Short Film About Love" (2:31)
- "Queen Margot" (2:11)

The trailers for “La Bęte” (1975), “A Short Film About Killing” and “A Short Film About Love” (both 1988), and “Queen Margot” (1994) are offered. "La Bęte" is a pretty weak looking trailer in non-anamorphic 1.66:1 and is optically censored with a black box appearing throughout whenever genitals appear. Both “A Short Film…” films are in anamorphic 1.66:1 with burned-in subtitles and look very good. “Queen Margot” is in non-anamorphic 1.78:1 and also has burned-in English subtitles, from an older print.

While the 40 minute discussion is a good extra, it is not a specific extra to “In the Realm of the Senses”. The deleted scenes which are on many other editions are not included, no commentary, no interviews with the surviving cast or crew, and no extras pertaining to the real-life incident.

Overall

“In the Realm of the Senses” is still one of the most controversial Japanese films ever made, with many divided on the issue of the nature of the film and the freedom of sexuality that it challenged. It still remains director Nagisa Oshima’s most well-known film for the scandalous reasons, but it is also a true art film with its bold direction of the true life source material. The Umbrella Entertainment release is unfortunately censored, and has a non-anamorphic transfer with not very vital extras for the film itself.

The Film: A Video: C- Audio: C Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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