Sunday, 16 October 2011

In The Realm Of The Senses (Nagisa Ôshima, 1976) Blu-Ray Review

Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda play intoxicated lovers in Ôshima's In The Realm Of The Senses (1976)...

In The Realm Of The Senses (Ai no korîda) tells the disturbing story of Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji) and Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), whose irrepressible desires acted as a catalyst for their eventual doom. The film is partially based upon an incident which occurred in 1930's Japan, in which Sada Abe asphyxiated her lover in a moment of passion and fled the crime scene with his decapitated penis. The story is true, although it has attained mythical properties through the prism of fiction; Ôshima's controversial 1976 treatment, which has never been shown uncensored in Japan, being as notorious as the case itself. Filmmakers such as Noboru Tanaka (A Woman Called Sada Abe, 1975) and Nobuhiko Obayashi (Sada, 1998) have also envisioned the tale, but New Wave director Ôshima imbued his epic with deeper criticisms of his country's culture, smashing through the barriers of what was deemed good taste. A Franco-Japanese production, the film has now been remastered for Blu-Ray, and the tale of Sada Abe looks richer than ever...

Fuji and Matsuda deliver two of the finest performances I've ever seen, using their entwining bodies to inform layers of character. The film is famous for its unsimulated sex scenes (which got it banned in several countries, including Germany, where it was confiscated as pornography), but the actors are never exploited. They boldly commit their bodies to Ôshima's vision, exploring each other's sexuality to probe deeper into the psychology of the characters. These are the most dedicated of performances, owing more to the acting style of silent cinema; purely physical expressions of humanity. Sada and Kichizo are primal creatures, regressed to a level of base indulgence, and the joy of the film comes from watching them unravel, albeit in different directions. As Sada becomes more unstable ("I desire you, and one day I'll use my knife on you") Kichizo becomes more afraid. He stays with her because he is compelled by her form, addicted to her touch, but secretly he fears her growing sexual hunger. Sada becomes quietly insane, eventually requiring acts of violence to reach climax. One could easily look at Kichizo's fate as an act of martyrdom.

The aesthetics of Ôshima's world are vital to understanding its story, and the colours inform much of the couple's behavior. Sada's colour is red, signifying danger and lust - the colour of love and blood. Kichizo wears black, indicating to me a void, or eternal nothingness. A doomed man. The interiors are green suggesting neutrality; a place where ecstatic union can be reached. DP Hideo Itoh lends the film a stunning palette, and its tones are subtle enough for their meaning to have genuine effect. The early scenes of snow falling, representing a purity that will be lost once the characters exile themselves to the dark interiors, are really striking, and provide an interesting contrast to the use of light and colour in later scenes. The final shot of the film rests above Kichizo's body, with "Sada and Kichi, just two of us together" painted across his chest in blood. The colour red has rarely been used so well in cinema.

This new release fascinates me for one reason in particular. In 1989 BBFC Chief Censor James Ferman fought hard for In The Realm Of The Senses to be released uncut in the UK. But one scene, in which Sada grabs the genitals of a young boy, squeezes them and seemingly causes him great pain, was in direct violation of the Protection Of Children Act. So, Ferman took it upon himself to oversee the optical reframing of that scene, resulting in a sequence which zoomed in to study the faces of the characters, expressing the emotion of what wasn't allowed to be shown by law. The film was subsequently passed uncut with an 18 certificate. A few months ago the BBFC reassessed the film and have decided, finally, that the complete work - with that troublesome scene intact - is suitable for UK audiences. This Blu-Ray represents the first time anyone in this country will be able to sit down and watch the film in its full, uncensored form, exactly the way Ôshima would have wanted. For that reason alone it's an essential purchase, and an invaluable edition to any film fans collection.

The Disc/Extras
Stunning transfer, with Ôshima's compositions looking sharper than ever. Optimum have been doing some great work recently, most of which has fallen under the radar, but maybe this one will catch attention. The extras are equally impressive, especially a fascinating documentary, directed by David Thompson, about the history of In The Realm Of The Senses, focusing on its impact in 1976. There are also retrospectives, a panel discussion with Julian Ross (historian/curator), Jasper Sharp (author of 'Behind The Pink Curtain'), Roland Domenig (film scholar) and Mathieu Capel (scholar), and six deleted scenes. This is one of the strongest releases I've seen all year, and fans of the film will be captivated by these all-new extras.

In The Realm Of The Senses is released on Blu-Ray in the UK on Monday 17th October. This review can originally be found at Flickfeast.

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