When a film depicts sex for the mere sake of it, that’s where I believe it can be deemed pornography. In the case of In the Realm of the Senses, as explicit as the sex may be, I don’t at all see it as pornography – it nearly borders on that but to me, it wouldn’t seem fair especially when what we have is a story being told, one especially that shocked Japan during its time. But out of everyone they got to direct it, it was a man who wanted to push beyond the limits, none other than Nagisa Oshima. It’s interesting how others can read into this, but I find it extremely masterful and at that, it is an unsettling picture of the lower depths in society. For how Nagisa Oshima uses explicit sexuality in order to let his own social commentary allow itself to run free on the screen, something overlooked and to some extent, unfairly maligned is indeed what is being witnessed through In the Realm of the Senses.
In the Realm of the Senses creates some sort of a motif with the sexuality, in a somewhat similar manner to Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. This is not sex depicted for the sake of it like the traditional Japanese “pink film,” but it’s what drives the story as it keeps going. Sada Abe lives a life full of sex. It is what drives her mind to such a depraved state. And given the explicit nature of the film (the sexual acts between the performers are not simulated), it’s as if Oshima went on wish pushing the border and showing us what the life of a prostitute is like up close. And I feel something like that is rather commendable. It is not how Oshima goes to display the explicit sexuality, it is from how he exposes how the sexuality damages the human mind where In the Realm of the Senses finds itself all the more wonderful – it is not so much a film that shows explicit sex as opposed to something so rich an essay of political ideas.
Something which I do find interesting is Oshima’s own criticisms of society and the political assumptions that come to make it what it is. It’s clear especially in a film like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence but you can see within In the Realm of the Senses he’s trying to push the envelope because that’s how far he wishes to go – and at that I find he has succeeded. This is him criticizing the working state by showing us how depraved the state of it can go. Oshima’s film makes a statement regarding that this repressed sexuality is a result of authoritarian politics. Pushing the envelope extremely necessary with getting the implications across – little has changed from forty years prior.
The ideas which Nagisa Oshima depicts in In the Realm of the Senses add up to much more at hand for even amidst the exaggerated focus on sexual activities being depicted on the screen, a tragedy is still formed at hand. Oshima, who sought to push boundaries with such a film creates a clear image to what made him such a clever filmmaker at hand, it is in his presentations of the tragedy overcoming the human being. The allegories to which Oshima has created through In the Realm of the Senses indicate humanist idealisms that glare at power’s effect on the human soul. From his establishment of the relationship between Sada Abe and Kichizo Ishada, the strong desire corrupts Kichi to the degree it brings him to the critical final moment, in which we have a demented act performed by Sada.
Given the depraved state of actions performed on the screen, it is amazing how the actors are willing to keep going especially with the explicitness with the sexual acts. I can only imagine it must be a challenge for Eiko Matsuda, but regardless the amount of emotion she gives into such a depraved role only managed to stick with me for such a long time upon thought from my first viewing. The devotion she gives and her willingness to go as far as to perform such depraved sexual acts only impressed me more because it just goes to show how far one can go to define what makes political art, and it’s absolutely astounding. It may take upon an exaggerated portrait as a means of depicting an extreme, and at that, utter brilliance is what comes by.
In a sense almost like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, what Oshima aspires to do is push the boundaries with sex and politics, and even challenges the debate of art or pornography. But even with all this explicit sex, it became less of an erotic piece but more towards the vibe of body horror. Films like this are necessary within exposing a depraved state of working force, and it’s astounding to see how much would Oshima challenge to get his message across. It even raises the question, “Why is it that sexuality is censored in a larger scale than violence?”, especially considering the fact it is still censored in its home country. You would remember how some criticize Eyes Wide Shut for avoiding eroticism, where In the Realm of the Senses performs something else is by showing the truth about what these strong erotic desires do to the human mind, and it truly is an act of bravery.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Screenplay by Nagisa Oshima
Produced by Anatole Dauman
Starring Eiko Matsuda, Tatsuya Fuji
Release Year: 1976
Running Time: 108 minutes