Heading East: In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
Controversial is one among many things you will hear about the films of Nagisa Oshima, but which one would be the most notorious of all? You’ve seen many films about where sex drives humanity but then along comes a film like In the Realm of the Senses, which goes as far as to not only having explicit pornography-esque sex scenes on display but also to have the sexual activity between its lead actors unsimulated. All of this controversy could only have meant one thing and one thing only, does the film ever live up to what it sounds like? The answer is yes.
In the Realm of the Senses is a picture that uses sexuality against what may be pictured as for some, erotic. Nagisa Oshima’s borderline pornographic imagery shows a greater challenge on the actors’ part but there’s an incredible sense of courage throughout. Oshima was a filmmaker who was known to break barriers with his own aggressive aesthetic and a willingness to go free. Here he has created something so perverse but never anything less than enthralling.
Oshima is a particularly unapologetic filmmaker especially when it comes down to the sort of culture he drenches In the Realm of the Senses within. The film’s premise, based on a true story about the prostitute Sada Abe - who gained infamy for a particularly violent act she had committed upon her lover. What exactly could it be that Oshima intended to say? Could it be a condemnation of desire, or could it be a depravity forming as a result of power? It’s a prime theme that pervades In the Realm of the Senses and that’s why the work is so fascinating to begin with.
Even with Oshima’s intent to shock, it’s still a beautiful film. The cinematography is some of the most beautiful of the entire 1970's. He has a knack for blending shock and beauty to create a product that baffling; as a matter of fact it still happens to be banned inside of its own home country. The most shocking sequences are still beautiful in some way, but it comes down to how Oshima handles every moment, especially the most extreme ones, all in good taste. In that sense, it brings oneself closer to a sense of depravity that can define such a work.
What sort of envelopes does In the Realm of the Senses push out? Even today, it still hasn’t lost any of its shock value - but rather instead the story has remained as haunting as it ever will be, an effect passed onto the rest of the globe. Politics in sexuality, cultures come about. One of the harshest of these sorts of experiences. One of the greatest films ever to have been made.