Reflections on ‘In the Realm of the Senses’

Nothing about In the Realm of the Senses is simulated. Absolutely nothing. Not the sex. Not the emotions on display. It’s all there, unadulterated, raw, and visceral.

For years, I avoided this film like the plague. Last year, I finally took a chance on it. I’m glad that I did. Yes, there are one or two scenes that I would dare call gratuitous – one scene involving a hard-boiled egg springs to mind – but I would never call this film “porn”. This is one case where the sex has real purpose and serves this tale of two doomed lovers in a way that most films could never dream of.

The fact that In the Realm of the Senses is still banned in its own country is absurd, and in fact, the film almost seems like a rebel cry against the uptight morality of the censors. It’s explicit, but it stops short of being lewd. As I mentioned before, the sexuality drives the film. If it were presented in any other way, the last 25 minutes wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as they are. You are asked to simply bear witness to the stormy and passionate affair of these two individuals – to watch the mutual obsession overcome both of them. It’s incredibly frightening. The point isn’t to make you leer at the sexual acts. In fact, the sex is filmed in such a way that we are kept mostly at a distance. Pornography places the action front and center, from every angle possible. In the Realm of the Senses is unapologetically sexual, but restrained. Elegant, even. The point is not to get you off, but to immerse you in the world that Oshima has built around the characters.

The ending is brutal and unforgettable. It’s hard to believe that this was all based on a true story. It’s extreme erotica with a dash of horror – a beautifully shot mood piece. A film that should not be dismissed.

Nagisa Oshima followed this up with the equally impressive Empire of Passion.

Fair warning: In the Realm of the Senses is not for the overtly conservative or faint of heart. If you have even the slightest objection to onscreen sexuality, then it would be wise for you to avoid this film altogether. 

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