This is a movie that I enjoy talking about, but no one really enjoys listening about. Hopefully though, my readers are the type who enjoy reading about pornographic films made by a notorious Japanese New Wave director (Oshima Nagisa). In the Realm of the Senses is really a very beautiful movie, and conceptually it complicates an issue that most people would rather remain simple.

The film is based on the true story of Abe Sada, a Japanese woman, who in 1936 developed an obsessive love affair with Ishida Kichizo, which ended with her asphyxiating him and cutting off his genitals. She carried his genitals in a little bag around her neck until she was picked up by the police 3 days after the crime.

What is so interesting about the story, and the film only alludes to, is that Abe Sada garnered a large amount of sympathy in Japan, while the country was in the process of invading China. In many ways, the actions of Sada and Ishida were seen as a reaction to the militarization of society. While the Japanese were speaking of sacrifice of life for the country, and strict dicipline, Sada and Ishida were escaping society to sacrifice their lives purely for the sake of passion.

This is never explicitly said in the film, but the war is constantly an undertone. The most explicit moment when the escape from militarization is depicted is when Ishida is seen on the sidewalk of street filled with soldiers marching to the war, Ishida is trying to make his way through the crowds watching them in order to get back to his lover. This theme is also ever present in the desire of Ishida to give up his life for a greater cause, the cause though is only the woman he loves, and not the abstract idea of a country.

Japanese citizens in 1936 were racing towards death, post-war literature in Japan always describes the overwhelming feeling of the inevitability of death during this time, not an eventual death, but death within a few years, many Japanese had resigned themselves to the fact that they would never grow old. The two characters in this film embody that attitude, they just choose to sacrifice their life for passion, and not country. Their society has well prepared them for death.

The film is pornographic, and is also known for being at the center of one of the most famous censorship trials in Japanese history. Details of the trial are in a book of Nagisa's collected essays, and I suggest reading the book for more details, some of the other essays collected in it are quite nice. The film also has beautiful cinematography at points.

Buy in the Realm of the Senses

Buy Cinema, Censorship, and the State: The Writings of Nagisa Oshima

No comments: