In the Realm of the Senses

Probably Japan’s greatest living filmmaker, Nagisa Oshima’s first new work in years, Gohatto, opens in October. We mark the occasion with a screening of the director’s most notorious work, In the Realm of the Senses. This extraordinary film is both a celebration of an honourable erotic tradition (from the Edo period, covering the 17th to the mid-19th. centuries, as chronicled in the prints of Utomaro) and an imaginative interpretation of a true story of crime and passion from more recent times. The central couple, a geisha and a pimp, are archetypal Oshima outsiders who turn their backs on the militarist realities of 1936 and retreat into an erotic world of their own. Oshima pushes the story of this couple to an extreme by interpreting the idea of a ‘closed world’ in a way that is probably unprecedented: I set out to make the language of the film the sexual act itself, he said. The explicit sex scenes have led Ai no Corrida (literally, Love’s Bullfight) to be heralded as the film that leaves nothing to the imagination. It is, if anything, the precise opposite. It shows things that are conventionally taboo not only to challenge the taboos but also to question the nature and meaning of those taboos. It quite literally looks at sex, as a basic human drive, as an experience of pleasure, as a compulsion, as a mystery, as a potential source of terror,and explains nothing at all. Intending viewers should be warned that the film broaches areas of thought and experience deeper than those that preoccupy censors.
Japan/France, 1976. English subtitles. Colour. 105 min.

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