In the Realm of the Senses (1976) (NC-17)

Movies have loved to push the boundaries. If you want the most famous example, look at Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange". Though I consider it to be possibly the director's most overrated movie, people just love the film. Why? I don't know...they seem to feel smarter after watching the movie, but I would argue that intelligence is not the point of the film. My point is being lost. Even though Kubrick really pushed, "A Clockwork Orange" isn't that bad (i.e. 'adult') considering some of the company it keeps.
Next to it you have a film like "In the Realm of Senses" which is still banned in its home country of Japan for its overt sexuality and disturbing content. After seeing the movie, it's no wonder.
The film itself had to be shipped to France to develop because of the censorship in Japan.
I won't spend too much time on the movie itself, mainly because I can hardly talk about it without trying to be vague about the sexual acts performed on screen and without any blurring or strategically placed's a battle that I know I would lose.
Yet, here we go: "In the Realm of Senses" (side note: great title) concerns an affair that occurs when a young girl meets a slightly older man—also her employer—and they lust after each other from the first time the set eyes on each other. He is unashamedly sexual, she is more reserved; but once he reveals the world of sex to her, she becomes ravenous.
The two hide away in a hotel somewhere and exclusively make love time and time again. They pause only to drink more sake and frighten the maids. In this drunken stupor, many unpleasantries for the sake of physical pleasure occur.
Let me just be clear: the movie is shocking with what is shown. It blurs the line between pornography and "fine art".
The couple's story does change, the lust turns to a strange form of doomed love. It's inevitable what will happen; but when it does occur, it is still grotesque to see.
Based on a true story from the 1930s, "In the Realm of Senses" was directed and written by Nagisa Ôshima and acted out by Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda. These two actors are incredibly brave for what they allow Ôshima to make them do.
The woman's past is filled with prostitution and lies, her present isn't that much better. Dissatisfied with being "the other woman", she becomes madly obsessive over her lover.
The movie is shocking because you are trained to think that movies won't show certain things, but Ôshima destroys that thought in the first five minutes. The whole film is saturated in sex.
Freud would have had a field day with this film, mainly because it's very observant to the fact that we are 'slaves' to our sexual nature. I don't agree with the film; but that wasn't the only reason that I didn't like "In the Realms of Senses".
Let me pose a question: what makes "In the Realm of Senses" great?
If all else fails and you can't analyze the philosophy of the movie, ask yourself the question: what story does the film tell? In the case of this film, it's not that great of a story and not one that I engaged with.
Which leaves us with the philosophy. What is the film saying? Certainly the two main characters cocoon themselves in a state of oblivion, unaware that war is about to rage outside their bedroom windows. So then is the film saying that the act of sex will make you unaware of your dulls the senses, leaving you stupid and ignorant? The characters keep inventing new ways of pleasing each other including (but not limited to) beating and choking. They have to keep adding on, becoming numb to what is already known.
In that way, the film could be a parable of knowledge; but I think that's stretching it a bit.
"In the Realm of Senses" is loved among critics...why? I don't get it. Is it just because it embraces sexuality so strongly and no other film really did that before? I find no parable here, I find no meaning. I just see two lovers moaning and panting in the heat of their sexual that "fine art"?
There is a certain beauty to their story that Ôshima manages to pull out from the sweat and blood (yes, that too); but that beauty is fleeting.
Contrary to what some people might think, it's not a film about repression or government.
There are a few moments that I don't quite understand, a few of them occur in dreamscape-like visions, the other involves pedophiliac aggression.
So if I wanted to, I could sit down and re-watch "In the Realm of Senses" and try to figure out those fleeting moments. But after seeing it once, once was quite enough. I highly doubt there's any deeper meaning.
"In the Realm of Senses" feels like it tried to hard, which is a shame because I sympathize with what the actors had to go through.
It's a movie that's controversial, surprisingly violent, and monotonous.

Score: 2 out of 4 stars

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