In The Realm of the Senses (1976)

In The Realm of the Senses. Nagisa Oshima. French art house crosses with Japanese porn to breed a stunning masterpiece of cinema that most people will find perverted if not revolting. Censored, cut, banned, and burned because it features unsimulated sex in close-up (that’s right, the actors screw and blow and all the rest…while acting), the film is now recognized as a classic of cinema—it’s even been re-issued in a sparkling digital conversion by the Criterion Collection. The set-design is superlative: nearly the entire film is shot on sound stages and it feels that way; simple sets with tight spaces, narrow halls, tiny rooms, are filmed and framed to make the audience feel as cramped as possible: the Japanese exotic/erotic motifs stimulate an atmospheric dreamscape that fits with the escalating eroticism that turns bloodily violent. The editing is oblique, with the overarching narrative taking a back seat to the rapidly putrefying passion. Being French, the film also meta-textually comments on audience voyeurism: side characters are constantly watching, peeping, sometimes participating, in the carnality: we’re all implicated at one level or another. As for the on-screen sex, it’s the only way the film can make sense…to trap you in the nightmare of lust and vulgarity (based, apparently, on a true story from 1930s Tokyo), to force you into the narrow rooms, into the act itself. I personally have more respect for a film that depicts the real thing than say 1992’s The Lover (in which five separate body doubles were used for Jane March) or even 2007’s Lust, Caution that merely required the actors –or their body doubles—get naked and roll around. ‘Using body doubles’… how is that art?

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