Quick Take: In the Realm of the Senses


Watching this infamous piece of cinema from 1976 is exhausting, but not in the way you’d think. The plot, based on a true story, isn’t too complicated: Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), a comely servant at an inn in 1930’s Japan becomes involved in a torrid love affair with the master of the house, Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji). He pursues, she demurs, then the power flips, she dominates and ultimately kills him. This story is told in a repetitive manner which becomes draining of your attention. It’s all very well planned out; each scene moving the plot forward, lovely surroundings, and it’s incredibly, insanely sexually explicit. Nothing much is left out; it’s stunning in the forwardness and the great acting displayed. That’s the trick; Matsuda and Fuji’s performances are heartfelt, terrifying, moving, and they just happen to also be having sex.  It’s jarring throughout; I’m not going to claim that watching this is not unsettling.  There is a lot of imagery that is highly upsetting, but not in a standard pornographic mode.  Elder sex, food, toys, orgies; you have it all but it feels like it should be in this film.  The true story of two people who engage in risky public sex while drinking lots of sake can be explicit in content if produced well, which Nagisa Oshima did.  The audience for this film is limited; many would feel squeamish to watch alone or with others and many would find it boring. What would generally be considered pornography becomes banal when filmed with an intent on story in mind and attention to detail. Give this a look if you want a glancing take on the changing modes of Japanese society in the 1930’s intercut with an amazing amount of blatant real sex and terrible violence.