movie film review | chris tookey

In The Realm Of The Senses / Ai No Corrida / Empire Of The Passions / Empire Of The Senses / L' Empire Des Sens

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  In The Realm Of The Senses  / Ai No Corrida / Empire Of The Passions / Empire Of The Senses / L' Empire Des Sens Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
6.88 /10
Tatsuya Fuji , Eiko Matsuda , Aoi Nakajima
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Directed by: Nagisa Oshima
Written by: Nagisa Oshima

Released: 1976
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: Japan
Length: 105

An obsessive, adulterous affair between a married Japanese inn-keeper (Tatsuya Fuji) and a young prostitute (Eiko Matsuda) with a friendly but unhygienic approach to food preparation.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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One particular trick she does with an egg gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "getting laid". Their relationship takes on increasingly sado-masochistic overtones until in the end - by mutual agreement - she strangles him. The final scene, where she hacks off his genitalia as a memento, is guaranteed to make any man wince.

In The Realm of the Senses has spent most of its existence in the realm of the censors. Not surprisingly: the sex scenes are as explicit as in any hardcore porn movie, and constitute much of the film. The film rises above the pornographic norm only in the exoticism of the setting, and in Miss Matsuda's memorable portrayal of doomed sexual obsession. It resembles the worst pornography in that all other characterisation is at a minimum. The leading man looks uncomfortable throughout and has an unfortunate tendency to snigger at inopportune moments: he might make a passable Demon King in panto, but here he fails to rise to the occasion, except in the most basic possible way.

Because the film is based on reality and set in 1936, a time of increasing Japanese militarism, critics have been quick to see it as an anti-nationalistic metaphor. As if to encourage this view, the director includes a shot of our hero walking to his final, fatal sex session, and encountering Japanese infantrymen marching in the opposite direction, presumably into China.

Such critics see the central love affair as a symbolic revolt against the taboos of a repressive society. This interpretation ignores the inconvenient fact that the happy couple are regarded with great tolerance by most of those around them, and even inspire some onlookers to join in. Nor do the hero or heroine suggest by a single word or facial expression that they have the least interest in politics. They have more pressing concerns.

The film's "sexual politics" have also been commended, perhaps because the woman is usually on top (both mentally and geographically), and the man ends up castrated. One problem with this feminist interpretation is that the heroine is clearly shown as becoming more and more deranged. In one sequence (previously unseen in this country), she even initiates child sexual abuse - although fortunately, in the one moment of restraint during the whole picture, it is not fully enacted for our edification.

Unfortunately for the feminist interpretation, too, this is one of the more spectacularly phallocentric movies of our time. The heroine is obsessed with the man's penis, treating it as a wild beast, tamable only through death. It is no accident that the red of her clothing resembles the cloak of a matador, or that the gruesome climax resembles the moment when a matador cuts the ears and tail from a dead bull. Indeed, the film's original Japanese title, Ai No Corrida, means "Love's Bullfight". I suppose you could say it's a cock and bull story.

But basically the film is little more than erotica. All kinds of intellectual pretensions have bean read into it by people who should know better and who argue that In The Realm of The Senses is great art not because it is, but because they disapprove of censoring erotic films. Still, I doubt whether the film will deprave or corrupt anyone over 18: it is much more likely to titillate, and then to bore.

Key to Symbols