In the Realm of the Senses
Still censored in its own country, In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), by Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, remains one of the most controversial films of all time. A graphic portrayal of insatiable sexual desire, Oshima’s film, set in 1936 and based on a true incident, depicts a man and a woman (Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda) consumed by a transcendent, destructive love while living in an era of ever escalating imperialism and governmental control. Less a work of pornography than of politics, In the Realm of the Senses is a brave, taboo-breaking milestone, still censored in its own country.
For this Blu-ray release The Criterion Collection presents Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on this dual layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions and is presented in 1080p. Despite some edits at the producer’s request (which look to have been made to tighten up the pacing and not to excise graphic material) the film looks to be here in its entirety, including sequences cut from other home video versions.
The DVD and the Blu-ray versions are actually taken from the same hi-def digital transfer, though it was obviously more compressed for DVD. At first glance the transfers may not look all that different, both present sharp colours (specifically vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows,) strong blacks and spot-on skin tones.
The restoration done is strong, and there’s next to nothing in the way of damage, may some slight flickering at times being the worst offender. Where the two releases really differ is sharpness and detail. While the DVD is quite strong in this department, the Blu-ray presents far more. Film grain is more noticeable for starts, and close-ups presents more pores, more detail on skin, and just on everything in general. The DVD had some issues with artifacts but the Blu-ray has pretty much wiped out all of these.
The DVD, which is what I saw first, was impressive, but sort of guessed what the Blu-ray would look like. I was right, and can’t say I was surprised, but I was expecting a stunning picture and that’s just what I got. A nice looking image.
(Currently we are unable to provide screen captures for Blu-ray releases, though plan to in the near future. Once we have the ability to add captures for Blu-ray releases this review will be updated.)
The film presents a lossless Japanese mono track. The mono track on the DVD was fine and served the film, and this one does about the same. It’s a little sharper, but only mildly so I found. Range and volume is excellent, and there’s no distortion. It’s a solid sounding mono track. Unlike a previous DVD release from Fox Lorber, this disc doesn’t contain a dubbed English track.
Criterion has gathered some decent supplements for their DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film. Other than one exclusive feature to the Blu-ray (their “timeline” feature) the supplements are exactly the same (though presented in hi-def) and I have copied my review for the supplements review from my DVD article.
First up is an audio commentary by Tony Rayns, I like Rayns’ commentary tracks, but must admit a certain disappointment with the his track for Criterion’s Chungking Express release, which sort of meandered and never really offered anything more about the film. At first I was afraid this track might offer a similar experience, since he doesn’t really focus on the film itself but everything around it, yet thankfully this track marks an improvement over the Chungking track.
He begins by stating that this film may be Nagisa Oshima’s simplest film (at least according to the director) and feels that he doesn’t have to delve too deeply into the film itself (or the sex) and will instead focus more around the production itself and Japanese cinema at the time. The best parts of the track would be moments where Rayns explains the historical setting of the film, which is late 1930’s Japan, and also when he discusses some of the legal problems involved in making the film in Japan. While Japan has a very lively porn business, it’s rather limited in that genitals and even pubic hair can’t be shown, so forget hardcore sex. Since this film has all of that they had to use loopholes to get it made. Since it was actually a French production the film “technically” wasn’t a Japanese film and could get around obscenity laws this way. The film itself was also developed in French labs since Japanese labs would have faced obscenity charges. Rayns also talks about the poor state of Japanese cinema during the late 60’s and 70’s, mentioning Nikatsu’s bankruptcy and its turn to making softcore porn features to stay afloat, saving the company, and he talks about the different types of Japanese porn films (“Pink Porn” and “RomanPorn”.) He of course covers the production, how it came to be, talks about the actors as they pop up on screen, and also covers some of Oshima’s film career. He talks about the case on which the film is based and what happened after the trial, and also briefly gets into the controversy over the film being shown in the States. He covers a lot, though can repeat himself at times and can sort of veer off without warning, but I still rather liked it. It offers a lot of information about the history behind the film.
Following the commentary Criterion has included three interviews.
The first interview is found under Oshima and His Actors, an almost 6 minute interview recorded during the film’s initial release for Belgian television. In it the director sits with his two stars, Eiko Matsuda and Tatsuya Fuji. Oshima gets most of the screen time, though. Oshima quickly talks about Sada Abe, the person on who the film is based, pornography in Japan, and the state of Japanese cinema, which is harmed by a lack of international distribution. Matsuda gets some brief screen time, talking about what it was like to work on the film.
A new interview with Tatsuya Fuji has been recorded for this release, presented in Anamorphic widescreen and running about 17-minutes. He talks about the actual Sade Abe case, or at least what he knows of it, and then moves on to the film, starting with his casting. He says that he liked the story after first reading the script but was sort of thrown by the graphic sex in it. He admits he was unsure at first about taking the role, but after a night of drinking with Oshima he accepted. He talks about his relationship with his co-star, Eiko Matsuda, and how the stuck close support of each other during filming (while he doesn’t get into it I’m sure it was tough at times), working with Oshima, who was a kind director (throughout the supplements everyone speaks fondly of him), the mood on the set, and getting ready for a scene in the dark and having the set cleared. One interesting aspect I’ve never come across anywhere before is that Oshima apparently played with the idea of cutting the scene where Fuji’s character walks against the marching army. In retrospect this seems a bit bizarre, since of the non-graphic scenes in the film it’s one of the most talked about, but apparently Oshima changed his mind about cutting it after Fuji told him that scene was the strongest reason he signed up for the film. It’s brief, but packed with some great information.
Finally is Recalling the Film, a 39-minute making-of of sorts, gathering together various participants involved with the film. It was made in 2003 and I suspect it was made for a French DVD release. It’s a very thorough making-of, covering every aspect of its production, though a lot of the information is repeated throughout the disc, specifically in the commentary track. It gets a little more into the sneaky way they made the film. Japan’s strict obscenity laws caused all sorts of issues and the production was very secretive. It was a French production, technically, so that helped, but actually filming and then developing the film called for some creative thinking, the negatives having to be shipped outside of the country to be developed, which of course caused a lot of stress. Stories about the shooting are all quite intriguing (including a fairly nasty one about the “egg” scene,) and there is great detail in the casting. Matsuda was easy to cast, but finding the male lead proved to be nearly impossible. Fuji admitted he had to “hum and hah” about it for a bit, but with most male actors they couldn’t even get that far, most rejecting taking the role immediately because they were unsure about their “size” (in Oshima’s essay found in the booklet he even mentions actors saying they were “too big”, which Oshima rolled his eyes at.) One young actor also had trouble performing in front of the crew even with the help of an issue of Playboy. Expanding from a mention in the commentary there’s also discussion on how the government went after Oshima over his published screenplay (which contained pictures that passed the censor board) since they couldn’t get him for the film. And in probably the most fascinating portion of the documentary, clips are shown from the heavily censored Japanese version of the film, which involves black bard taking up most of the screen. If you’re looking for a quick overview of the film this may be the one feature to watch as it covers the production in great detail.
A deleted scenes section is also included, presenting six short deleted/extended sequences. The total cut appears to be about 6-minutes, though as a whole this feature lasts 12-minutes, divided into 6 chapters. The presentation is set up to show you where these sequences would have appeared in the film with actual shots included in the film presented in black and white bookending the colour deleted sequence. I was actually sort of amazed the sequences cut were actually quite tame and it looks as though these cuts were made to pick up the pace of the film. In fact one cut bit is just a few seconds more of moaning. Does it harm the film? I don’t think so, though one scene, where Kichi experiences a rather loud climax, the only time I recall the character actually enjoying it through the entire film, seems to be an odd cut. At any rate they’re here for you to see.
The disc then closes with a somewhat risqué trailer, though still incredibly tame to the actual film.
The one exclusive feature is one common to all of Criterion’s Blu-ray releases, the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film, and like pop-up menus for most Blu-ray releases it appears over the film as it plays. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button. This is pretty common on Blu-ray (also common on HD DVD) so it’s nothing new, but I’ve always liked Criterion’s presentation.
It’s an excellent set of features, though one thing I was sort of hoping for was maybe more on the multiple versions of the film, and heck, just for laughs, more scenes from the censored Japanese version. I also would have appreciated more on the real Sade Abe. While she and the actual case are mentioned throughout the features, it’s all spread around and a nice, centrally located spot with all of this info would have seemed like an obvious addition. But what we do get at least covers the history behind the film quite thoroughly.
As I said for my DVD review those unfamiliar with the film they may want to approach it with caution and give it a rental first. I do consider it a good film and I think if people can get past certain aspects of its content they’ll also find a good film, but it is graphic, presenting “hard-core” sex scenes that aren’t simulated. But those familiar with the film and looking to own the best possible version of it should look no further than Criterion’s Blu-ray. The image transfer is absolutely stellar, very film like. The supplements, exactly the same as the DVD, are also all quite good. It gets a high recommendation.