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When Kichizo Ishida first encounters Sada Abe she is working as a prostitute to pay her lover's debts. He is immediately attracted by her open lusciousness and obvious enjoyment of all things sexual. He finds a place where the two can be alone and in the small room which they share, behind closed doors, their passion and sexual exploration has no limitations. Building on their mutual desire to experience different extreme pleasures, their games start to take on a deadly aspect...
In The Realm of the Senses (Ai no korîda - 1976 - 1 hr, 42 min, 04 sec) is an exploration of obsessive passion, written and directed by Nagisa Ôshima and based upon a true story. The film is presented here, uncut for the very first time. The film won two awards in 1976, one for the director and one for the leading male actor.
It is difficult to discuss the film without first discussing the, until recently, on-going controversy surrounding it. The film is, even by today’s standards, graphic in its depiction of the sexual act. Given the time in which the film was made, and the cultural background from whence it sprang, it is little wonder that the film was greeted with a wave of puritanical vitriolic condemnation. Initially, the director was brought up on a charge of obscenity for publishing the screenplay, the case was finally dropped after four years.
Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda) is that single most frightening thing to the unenlightened man, a woman who enjoys sex in a way similar to a man. Although she is dressed like a demure geisha, she would much rather spend the day with her lover's member in her mouth, or obsessively riding him into exhaustion.
Of course, Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) initially thinks that he has landed in pig heaven. It is only when it becomes clear that Sada’s unhealthy passions are so strong that they even exclude the need to eat does one of the ladies at his lodgings try to persuade him to run away from Sada. She can see that he has lost all sense of proportion, the heady delight of sex with Sada acting like a drug which he finds he can not deny, will lead him to his inevitable doom.
Given that the whole story revolves around the unhealthy obsessive passion of just two people, the whole film rests on the ability of the two main cast members to convey their decent into madness. Both Tatsuya Fuji - who would appear in the follow-up film Empire of Passion - and Eiko Matsuda are totally convincing in their roles although Matsuda has the more difficult role, depicting a woman who starts on the edge and voluntarily belly flops into the mouth of madness. Even given the amount of graphic sex on show, this film is more disturbing than it is pornographically stimulating.
The Blu-ray disc has a very good picture, which appears free from artefacts and damage. The picture is presented with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese audio track with burnt in subtitles.
The disc has a good selection of extras, including Once Upon a Time: In the Realm of the Senses (52 min, 15 sec) which looks at the genesis of the film and Ôshima’s work in general, which includes an interview with the director. Much of the documentary is in either French or Japanese with English subtitles.
Recalling the Film (38 min, 40 sec) is an informative 2003 program featuring interviews with consulting producer Hayao Shibata, line producer Koji Wakamatsu, assistant director Yoichi Sai and distributor Yoko Asakura. There is another Panel Discussion at Birbank College (57 mi 07 sec) which has an academic look at the film and its impact. The disc wraps with some Deleted Scenes (12 min, 19 sec) some are in colour and others are in black and white.
This is a powerful film about obsession and quite possibly Ôshima’s most important work. He would go on to be known in the west for directing David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, another film about love and passion, but nothing would reach either the depths or heights of this film ever again.