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aka - Ai No Corrida
Japan 1976
Directed by
Nagisa Oshima
105 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

In The Realm Of The Senses

Synopsis: It is Tokyo, 1936. Kichi (Tatsuya Fuji) is the boss of a small geisha house in which Sada (Eiko Matsuda) a beautiful ex-prostitute works. They begin to have an affair which becomes so intense that they loose all connection with the outside world.

Based on a notorious murder case which scandalized Japanese society in 1936 In The Realm of the Senses was released in 1976, to a good deal of scandalised response and consequent censorship, and re-released in 2000 in its original form It is a remarkable film that shows no sign of aging, even if we live in less-easily shocked times.

There have been two worthy films this year which have dealt with the role of sex in human relations and identity, Catherine Breillat’s Romance and the documentary by Gough Lewis, Sex: The Annabel Chong Story. More than the sexual act itself, which admittedly occupies a prominent role in each of them, all are really about the emotional, psychological and symbolic value of the act within the phallic order of patriarchal society, and particularly in its constitution of the feminine/female. Cultural theorists, feminists and Lacanians would have a field day interpreting the implications any of them but Realm would send them into paroxysms of delight because it is also a cineaste’s film, exotic (traditional Japanese culture on the eve of its fracturing with WW2) and ravishing to see (superb photography and camera work, costume and set design and a couple of very photogenic protagonists).

Much of the commentary I have seen has compared Realm favourably with pornographic movies but the comparison seems to me to be irrelevant. Yes, the camera does show all (if you’re out on a first date this could work either way for you) in an extraordinarily candid way but it’s hardly lascivious and the denouement is not encouraging for a would-be stud.

It is however, monothematic, and that makes it, as they say, quite demanding viewing. Kichi and Sada do little other than talk and screw themselves senseless and though there is a narrative thread there are really no characters of significance other than themselves. I could definitely detect a restive mood in the theatre in the later part of the film. Partly too this may be due to cultural differences. There are references to rituals of which we in the West know nothing and the significance of traditional music, which features prominently, is entirely lost on uniformed ears. Much of this is no doubt important to a deep understanding of the film.

Notwithstanding, In The Realm Of The Senses is an extraordinary work and you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see it on the big screen.




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