In the Realm of the Senses

In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Ôshima, 1976)

Based on a true story set in pre-war Japan, a man and one of his servants begin a torrid affair. Their desire becomes a sexual obsession so strong that to intensify their ardor, they forsake all, even life itself.

This cult film and its title always intrigued your host here and it would have been a sure visit even if the title wasn’t on the quest (They Shoot Pictures Don’t They 1000 Greatest films of all time) that yours truly has taken since four years or so. Since the Criterion collection released Ôshima’s most infamous movie it was then obvious that In the Realm of the Senses was a must see film.

Just like the IMDb citation aforementioned, this is the story of an affair between a man and one of his servants. They fall in love and abandon themselves to each other. We follow their many many (repetition intended) intercourses depicted graphically in a way that probably influenced Catherine Breillat’s Cinema but without falling into complete pornography where endless scenes of penetrations and sexual acts are depicted. Don’t watch this if you wanted porn. Ôshima is very cautious to not mix desire, love, with meaningless sex. This is more an erotic film where the two actors Tatsuya Fuji (the master) and Eiko Matsuda (Sada, the servant) sure get naked and perform many sexual acts but also show a real talent at displaying the love and desire their characters need. Their performances are true and Ôshima did an excellent job at directing the slow transfer of control into the couple from the real master to the hold that Sada is having on Kichi-san.

The bright cinematography and wonderful and also very Japanese mise en scène of ItRotS makes it an appealing film to look at. The quality of the production is so well executed that the film doesn’t look to have aged much and the settings, pretty much just interiors, are superb.

However, the 1970’s were a time of excesses and the display of so much sexual acts may have caused a shock to the audiences of 1976 and may do so today, however with the constant commercial imagery relating to porn and the better acceptance of sexual behaviours may be better accepted. With that said, it is also more than worth to observe that the story centered on this relationship based solely on sex gets a little redundant because at some point we get that the couple can’t do anything but do it. It is mainly a problem of script and the film doesn’t scream provocation that much so the emphasis on the sex kind of gets worn out and a much well written character development and past could have benefited the technical strengths of the picture.

It is always rewarding when we discover a film that has been a big blank in our movie culture. This was one for me and I am pretty glad to have finally seen In the Realm of the Senses. Far from being an excellent movie, it is still a very good work of art and a good movie.


  1. Good take on this one. I agree on the almost certain influence it had on Breillat, and how it does get tedious after awhile.

    1. Thank you BT. As I remember I think Breillat put it on her top 10 list for Sight and Sound in 2002... I'll have to check to make sure.


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