In the Realm of the Senses

Directed by: Nagisa Ōshima
Distributed by: Toho Co., Ltd.

Written by Raúl Mendoza


Nagisa Ōshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses” has been sitting on my shelf for a while now collecting dust and waiting for me to pop it into my blu-ray player. I’m not even sure where my interest began for this film. To be honest, I’m sure it was during prep for a review on Gaspar Noé’s “Love.” I read during my research that actor Karl Glussman was recommended to watch this film in anticipation of his role. This led me down a path of trying to find the film on streaming services but it was practically nowhere to be found. I eventually bought the film’s physical release during a Criterion sale, but it sat on my shelf for a while. Nagisa Ōshima is a new director to me, I’d never seen any of his work before, so I wasn’t just going blind into this film but also the director’s style and approach to storytelling.

“In The Realm of the Senses” is written and directed by the Japanese director Nagisa Ōshima (“Death by Hanging”). It is a fictionalized and sexually explicit imagining of the Sada Abe case, where a Japanese geisha/sex worker murdered her lover, and afterward carried his severed genitalia around her neck. The film is very sexually explicit as it includes several acts of unsimulated sex. The film was very controversial at the time and was rejected or banned for screening in various countries. The film also included some help from pink film expert Kōji Wakamatsu as co-screenwriter (though he was left uncredited) and assistant producer. Pink films were films from Japan that included any sort of nudity or dealt with sexual content. I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why they opted to use the color pink.

I’ve been able to sit with this film for a while now and it has allowed me to digest more about the film’s themes and execution. “In The Realm of the Senses” is provocative but it is filled with a rich and subversive subtext. The story never lost me and it most importantly found a way to make the eroticism feel necessary to its story. It’s beautifully shot by cinematographer Hideo Ito as it highlights the atmosphere of the locations used. The film stock registers reds so well that they pop almost instantly, so when the blood is finally shown in the film it looks glorious. Mimoru Miki crafts an eerie and spine-chilling score that put me on the edge of my seat as I dissected the tumultuous and toxic relationship between our characters. Now, “In The Realm of the Senses” isn’t perfect by any means, its second act specifically feels a bit off as the pace slows down exponentially. Some of the imagery used can be a bit redundant at times as well, but Nagisa Ōshima makes it up with his operatic third act.

Nagisa Ōshima’s “In The Realm of the Senses” is most remembered for its controversial characteristics but behind its provocative nature, there’s a tense and interesting film about infidelity, betrayal, and the female gaze.

“In the Realm of the Senses” Trailer

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