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.
Criterion’s edition of Nagisa Oshima’s controversial In the Realm of the Senses replaces a rather bland DVD release from Fox Lorber, now presenting the film in anamorphic widescreen in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual-layer disc. The film, for the most part, appears to be uncut, including scenes I believe trimmed from other versions (the “deleted scenes” portion of the supplements show scenes the producer requested to be trimmed for this release.)
Criterion have again outdone themselves with this transfer (which is apparently a downgraded version of what will appear on the Blu-ray release) presenting a consistently sharp image with incredible colours. Reds, oranges, yellows all come off quite vibrant. Blacks are fairly deep and skin tones look to be accurate.
The print is in wonderful condition and the film has received a fairly extensive restoration by the looks of it. There is some flickering and pulsating at times, but other than that the print is wonderful. I have to admit at being surprised how good it looked overall and I’m sure the Blu-ray edition will be quite sharp itself based on this.
The film presents a sharp Japanese Dolby Digital mono track. It’s quite good, serving the film well. The music sounds quite good and has some range to it, never distorting. Voices are also strong as is the “moaning” throughout the film. As a whole it exceeded my expectations. The Fox Lorber release presented a dubbed track, not found here, but I doubt many will complain about this.
Criterion has gathered a decent number of supplements for this release.
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.
Closing of the release is a rather thick 36-page booklet featuring a fairly lengthy essay by Donald Richie on the film that defends it from the critics that classify it as “pornography” and why it doesn’t fit under that label. You also get a rather wonderful and humourous essay about the making of the film by the film’s director, Nagisa Oshima. The booklet nicely closes off the release.
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.
For 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 for those familiar with the film and looking to own it on DVD, without question this is the one to pick up (or the Blu-ray being released same day.) It’s an excellent release, a big improvement over Fox Lorber’s DVD. The picture quality and the supplements are up to Criterion’s usual level of quality and should not disappoint. P>