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In the Realm of the Senses

Never seen anything like this. Intensely disturbing, sexually explicit, beautifully framed and shot, and based on actual events, In the Realm of the Senses is considered a masterpiece by some and extremely controversial filth by others. This 1976 French-Japanese art film was written and directed by Nagisa Oshima, one of Japan's masters of cinema. It has been cut into various, less graphic versions in some countries, it was edited in France and listed as a French production to evade Japan's strict censorship laws, and it was banned in Belgium until 1994 (the only film to be banned there since).

Ian Buruma, in his 2018 book A Tokyo Romance, remarks: "No filmmaker had ever pulled off anything like this before. The movie was both hard core and tender, a cinematic blow for sexual freedom, especially for women."

I've never seen or read anything that inspires so much pity for a man's penis, due as much to its having to constantly service the insatiable Sada as to its ultimate dismemberment. Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), a maid at a Tokyo hotel frequented by geisha, but a prostitute in her past, falls hard for the hotel owner, Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji). For most of the film the camera is focused on their sexual experimentation and fast-growing mutual obsession. This coupled with Oshima's unique artistry makes the film not like pornography and, along with those miscellaneous onscreen observers to their sexual acts, we're forced into the role of voyeur and then finally of witness to murder and a bloody emasculation.

According to Buruma's book, the real Sada (pictured below) was arrested four days after the actual killing and seemed as happy as could be. The news of her crime and arrest swept the nation. Apparently the public felt deeply sympathetic for her and she was let off the hook. Buruma also mentioned that she opened a bar somewhere in Tokyo afterwards and, according to American author and long-term Tokyo resident Donald Richie, who had been to her establishment, the regulars there would stand up and cup their hands over their genitals each night when the infamous mama-san came in.

The real Sada Abe immediately after her arrest (May 20, 1936 at Takanawa Police Station)
The real Sada Abe immediately after her arrest (May 20, 1936 at Takanawa Police Station)


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