In the Realm of the Senses (1976, Nagisa Oshima)

“If you strangle me, don’t stop midway. It’s too painful afterward.”


Kichi runs an inn, makes explicit advances on one of his workers. They begin passionate secret, explicit, OH-so-explicit sexual affair. Eventually he leaves his wife, the girl (Sada) and he move in together having continual sex, the sex gets more dangerous and starts involving knives and choking, and finally he lets her strangle him to death.

I liked Empire of Passion so I thought I’d like Oshima’s celebrated, scandalous arthouse porno even more, but was surprised not to. It’s got less cinematic flair than Passion, and less of a story too. I hate to say it, but all that sex gets boring after a while. Okay I take it back – there’s interesting stuff in here… some cool high shots (see below), a wildly fucked dream sequence where the woman grabs a naked six-year-old’s penis and won’t let go, a geisha gang rape, and some political business (nationalism on the streets, an army march – this is the year before the bombing of Shanghai) completely ignored by our sheltered protagonists, making me think this is a predecessor to Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.


Finally, a ridiculous closing voiceover tells us this happened in 1936 and she was arrested a few days later. I thought this was wedged in by the producers, but in his excellent commentary, Tony Rayns tells us that’s Oshima’s own voice.

There’s more weirdness involving an egg, pubic hair consumption, fantasies of Sada killing Kichi’s wife, and a quirky dancing man. The girl has a scorpion tattoo on her ear – Tony didn’t tell us the relevance of that, so perhaps it has no relevance, because Tony knows all. The two have a fake marriage ceremony at an inn (not his inn, this is after they’ve run away) which leads to the geisha gang-rape and the quirky dancing man (below). I am already out of things to say… it’s a pretty simple movie for something so controversial.


Produced by Wakamatsu Koji (United Red Army), produced and suggested by Anatole Dauman (Hiroshima mon amour, Masculin FĂ©minin, some Walerian Borowczyk features, Fruits of Passion, La Belle captive, Wings of Desire and Marker’s Level Five – wow).

Original title was Empire of the Senses. I assume the Mekons song Empire of the Senseless, with its lyrics about censorship, is referencing that. Oshima’s chosen Japanese title Ai no corrida (translated: Love’s Bullfight) looks to me like Spanish for Hey! No Running.


Tony Rayns:
“Oshima sees himself as standing apart from the consensus. For him, anybody who breaks the bounds of convention, anyone who dares to think for him or herself is in some sense an admirable figure,… hence an overall focus, I think, on the figure of the outlaw in many of his films.”

Most of the people in the film are women, including all the voyeurs (and there are many voyeurs). At the very beginning, a woman tries to initiate some lesbian sex with our hero and is rejected outright. Tony tells us these things explicitly delineate Senses from standard porn films.


More Tony:
“No two Oshima films look alike – there is no thing as the Oshima style.”

The geishas all falling upon each other as Sada has painful menstrual sex is “not a realistic detail.”


Girl who played Sada appeared the next year in a Kinji Fukasaku film with Sonny Chiba, otherwise not too many acting roles, while Kichi became a fairly successful actor. Typical. Although he was also a known actor before this, while she was just starting out in movies (previously in Terayama Shuji’s theater group). The actor playing an old tramp (glimped in the top screenshot) played the father in Kaneto ShindĂ´’s Naked Island. Oshima didn’t finish his l’amour fou trilogy, and only made three more features and a couple documentaries over the next twenty years.

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