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In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima 1976)


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Ai no corrida

In the Realm of the Senses

Genre: Death Spiral of Obsessive Love

review in one breath

This movie by Oshima Nagisa contains scenes that go well beyond the allowances of the Japanese film industry censors and was thus produced in France. This could easily be (and has been) considered a form of pornography, but is seldom declared such due to perhaps the historical background of the story and Oshima's determination to have this produced as an artistic revolt against Japan's unwillingness to allow anything of this sort (at a time when Western film was producing pornography). That said, those watching this movie are in for some very graphic sex scenes which leave little or nothing to the imagination.


The story is that of Abe Sada, an infamous figure of 1930's Japan whose tale of unrestrained passion and murder spread through the country of Japan like wildfire. Every major newspaper covered the details of this affair and it captured the imagination (and libido) of readers. Abe Sada was a young woman who, according to this version of the story, was subjected to abuse from an early age. She found herself working in brothels early on and by the time we catch up with her in this movie, she is an adult and very accustomed to the brothel lifestyle.

She falls deeply in love with the brothel owner, Kichizo Ishida, who, despite being married, regularly "evaluates the hired help" so to speak. But the circumstance which causes this story to depart from the myriad like it is the passion with which Abe clings to her new lover. One the one hand, one might say that it is a depth of love and passion which bind these two lovers together in rapturous amore. But we clearly see that this is a dysfunctional obsession which will lead not only to self-destruction, but ultimately to murder and madness.

In the throes of passion, Abe and her lover experiment with aphyxiation (after experimenting with everything else including boiled eggs and shiitake mushrooms), where each takes turns slowly strangling the other during the heat of intercourse. It soon becomes apparent that Abe Sada, having experienced this, can never go back to life without it, and not only requests ever dangerous degrees of strangulation, but finds the need to enact this on her lover, who as if drunk and delirious with love, plays along. On May 18, 1936, Abe Sada intentionally strangles the lover to death and in an act she considers immortalizing, castrates the dead man. After carving a tribute to their love in his thigh, she carefully wraps up the dismembered member to carry it with her.

Police caught up with her weeks later still carrying the little reminder of her lover. Though the movie stops here, in real life Abe was sentenced to six years imprisonment but given an amnesty in 1940 to coincide with the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu's ascension to the throne. Abe used an assumed name and later married, but her husband divorced her when he found out who she was. She became an entertainer, playing herself in dramatic re-enactments of her crime. Abe disappeared in 1970 and her whereabouts remain unknown .

cultural interest violence sex strangeness






If you want to learn more about Abe Sada, and are not particularly interested in being overwhelmed in sex scenes, there are a few other movies about her you should watch instead. However, this is also an infamous film due to Oshima's curtail of Japan's censorship. Watching the castration scene will undoubtedly make every male in the audience wince. If all the sex scenes were cut out of this, I don't think there'd be enough film left to make a 30 second trailer. And we're not talking HBO late night "sex" either! Although this is undoubtedly dramatized in the passion department, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

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