(In the Realm of the Senses)
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Production: Argos Films (Paris), Oshima Productions (Tokyo), and Océanique Productions (some sources list Shibatu Organization as one of the production companies involved); Eastmancolor, 35mm, Vistavision; running time: 110 minutes, some versions 115 minutes. Released 1976. Filmed in Japan.
Producer: Anatole Dauman; screenplay: Nagisa Oshima; photography: Hideo Itoh; editor: Keiichi Uraoka; art director: Shigemasa Toda; music: Minoru Miki; lighting: Ken'ichi Okamoto.
Cast: Tatsuya Fuji ( Kichizo ); Eiko Matsuda ( Sada Abe ); Aoi Nakajima; Taiji Tonoyama ( Tramp ); Kanae Kobayashi; Akiko Koyama; Naomi Shiraishi; Machiko Aoki; Kyoko Okada; Yasuko Matsui; Katsue Tomiyama.
Awards: Best Director, Cannes Film Festival, 1978.
Bock, Audie, Japanese Film Directors , New York, 1978; revised edition, Tokyo, 1985.
Oshima, Nagisa, Ecrits (1956–1978): Dissolution et jaillissement , Paris, 1980.
Tessier, Max, editor, Le cinéma Japonais au présent 1959–1979 , Paris, 1980.
Sato, Tadao, Currents in Japanese Cinema (in English), Tokyo, 1982.
Magrelli, Enrico, and Emanuela Martini, Il rito, il rivolta: Il cinema di Nagisa Oshima , Rome, 1984.
Polan, Dana B., The Political Language of Film and the Avant-Garde , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985.
Danvers, Louis, and Charles Tatum, Nagisa Oshima , Paris, 1986.
Turim, Maureen, The Films of Nagisa Oshima; Images of a Japanese Iconoclast , Berkeley, 1998.
Bonitzer, P., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March-April 1976. Positif (Paris), May 1976.
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Frias, I. Leon, "El ascetismo erotico de El imperio de los sentidos ," in Hablemos de Cine (Lima), May 1982.
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Turim, Maureen, "Wie es ist, nicht mehr jung zu sein: Sex, Tod und Leben," in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt am Main), June 1991.
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* * *
The first film to break down the barriers between the commercial art film and hard-core pornography, the all-explicit Ai no corrida was for Japanese director Nagisa Oshima both a political and a psycho-cultural exploration. In keeping with his consistent treatment of sensitive issues in the guise of dramatic films, Oshima conceived this project at the suggestion of French producer Anatole Dauman to do a hard-core film. Immediately subsequent to the abolition of anti-obscenity laws in France, Corrida was the sensation of the 1976 Cannes International Film Festival, where an unprecedented thirteen screenings were mounted to meet the demand. Shot entirely in Japan, where police ordinarily seize in the developing laboratory films revealing so much as a pubic hair, the exposed footage was sent to France for processing. When re-imported to Japan as a French production, with every explicit scene air-brushed into white haze by the censors, it was nevertheless hailed as the first porno film for women. Oshima was therefore arrested and prosecuted for obscenity in the screenplay, which had been published in book form in Japan. After four years in court, he was found innocent by the supreme court, but he did not succeed in overturning the legal concept of obscenity.
Like all of Oshima's films, Corrida is based on a true story, the apprehension of Sada Abe, who strangled her lover with his consent and then cut off his genitals in 1936, months before Japan's full-scale aggression against China would open World War II. The appearance of Japanese flags and marching soldiers elucidate a background theme of sexuality as escape from political and social oppression, one of Oshima's persistent concerns.
Corrida is an exploration of the limits of sexuality. Sada (Eiko Matsuda) and Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) gradually reject the outside world in order to pursue the ultimate in sexual pleasure. Couched in a linear narrative with few but important stylistic deviations from a conventional exposition, the sexual exploits quickly lose any prurient quality. These lovers are too analytical; they comment too much; they allow and seek out too much intrusion upon their acts. Finally, they develop too much need for violence to stimulate themselves as over-indulgence dulls the pleasure. The desire to possess another person ends in Kichizo's death.
The major reversal of the conventions of the porno film lie in Kichizo's aim of giving pleasure to Sada. She gradually changes from addressing him as "master" (of the inn where she has worked as a maid) to adopting male speech and giving him orders. Some psychiatrists have seen this as a calculated role reversal, in which Kichizo takes on first a passive quality, then a maternal aspect for Sada. Indeed Sada becomes the aggressor, initiator and possessor in every sense. But Oshima characteristically ends the film without any comment but the historical facts: Sada was arrested with Kichizo's genitalia on her person, tried and jailed for murder. But she became celebrated as a folk heroine.
Aside from the universal interest of the possession urge in sexuality, Oshima layers his film with cultural references. He uses the formula of the Kabuki theater, the lovers' journey (michiyuki, as they go to the inn that will be their refuge and site of the murder) to presage a doomed alliance. He taps the rich pornographic history of feudal Japan in the voyeurism, exploitation, and sado-masochistic play of the geisha and maids at the inns, and he mocks the elaborate ritual of the Japanese wedding ceremony. Use of traditional Japanese musical instruments on the sound track, lush color photography even in the confinement of the small inn room, and superb acting from non-stars and amateurs add to the disturbing appeal of this psychological landmark of the cinema.