With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, March 15, 2012

ACF 1381: Nagisa Oshima's IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES at Japan Society tomorrow night

Tatsuya Fuji, left, and Eiko Matsuda) as the two lovers
In The Realm of the Senses / Ai no Korida
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
With Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima
Japan, 1976, 102 minutes
When: Friday, March 16th at 10:00 PM
Where: Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, NYC
Between 1st and 2nd Avenues
Tickets here

Like some of Oshima's other films (Death by Hanging, 1968, and Boy, 1969), In the Realm of the Senses was based on an actual event. In 1936, as Japanese militarism was on the rise, a couple had a intensely "passionate, obsessive, and finally self destructive love affair." (I've appropriated this phrase from Donald Spoto's characterization of the novel upon which Alfred Hitchcock's film Suspicion was based; see Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and his Leading Ladies, Three Rivers Press, 2008, page 107.) Their story was widely known to Japanese at that time and subsequently. However, since some potential viewers do not know the story, I will not spoil it by giving away what happens to the pair. Suffice it to say, what came to pass is disquieting in the extreme.

This film is one of the most controversial Japanese movies ever made. Traditionally, the depiction of genitalia or even pubic hair was not just taboo in Japan but illegal. Actresses in the so-called "Pink Films" had to endure wearing "maebari," a skin-colored tape which fight snugly between their legs and over their vaginas. (See Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films by Thomas Weisser and Yuko Mihara Weisser, Vital Books, 1998, page 23.)

Oshima flaunted convention and defied Japan's obscenity laws by making a film that graphically, explicitly depicted sex acts, both fellatio and penetration during intercourse. He was only able to shoot these scenes (on a closed set with just him and the actors) because the film was technically a French production by Anatole Dauman. Oshima was subsequently tried for obscenity in conjunction with his publishing the scenario for the film, but was ultimately acquitted.

Clearly In the Realm of the Senses is adult-only fare. One can argue, and many have, as to whether or not the film is pornographic. I contend that it is not. Pornography, particularly hard core porn, is intended primarily to provide a visual aid for masturbation by a solitary viewer. Whatever "dialogue" it may include is intended merely as a brief bridge between sex scenes. And for a porn movie, multiple "money shots" (i.e., male ejaculations) are de rigueur. None of these are the case with In the Realm of the Senses.

Oshima, left, and the cast of In the Realm of the Senses

Still, it's explicitness makes it problematic viewing for some, whether at a public screening, such as the one this Friday evening at Japan Society, or at a private viewing (the film is available on a fine Criterion release).

In the Realm of the Senses would be worth seeing if only because its significant place in the history of Japanese cinema. (Even today, the genitalia in the film  are "fogged" when it is screened in Japan, although some scenes that were once banned are now permitted to be shown.) Beyond that, the film is a fascinating, well-told and acted story of two people who flew in opposition to the currents of their time and experienced an incredibly intense, if ultimate brief, love affair.

ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars, highly recommended.

In The Realm of the Senses is being shown as part of Japan Society's Globus Film Series Love Will Tear us Apart. Series info here. Prior to Senses, there will be a screening of Snakes and Earrings at 7:30 PM Friday evening. Info about that film here. There are separate admission charges for each film.

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