Fans might be more familiar with Nagisa Oshima's Ai No Corrida. But even if the nudity and sex may be toned down in Noboru Tanaka's 1975 take on the true story of a woman who strangled her lover and then cut off his penis, A Woman Called Abe Sada is still gripping viewing. Stephen Tan reviews.


To fully depict his tale of obsessive love in Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses, 1976), director Nagisa Oshima needed to sidestep the Japanese censors. To do that, he got a French partner and did his post-production in France. The result had movie audiences gasping and, for once, a Japanese film not only had full frontal nudity and undisguised shots of genitalia but hardcore sex that was practically in your face.


Ai No Corrida created such a stir, both within and outside Japan, that movie audiences tended to overlook Noboru Tanaka's A Woman Called Abe Sada.

Based on the true 1936 story of a woman who strangled her lover and then cut off his penis, Tanaka's film, which had to contend with the Japanese censors, preceded Oshima's Ai No Corrida by a year and was voted one of the 10 best Japanese films of 1975.

Serious fans of Japanese movies would have managed to catch a screening of Ai No Corrida but Tanaka's A Woman Called Abe Sada is definitely worth viewing. Compared to Ai No Corrida, the nudity and sex in Abe Sada is practically tame, with Junko Miyashita's (as Abe Sada) breasts getting the most exposure. There is some oral sex which is decorously covered up but audiences know what's happening - Tanaka plays everything very straight so there's nothing to even wink at.

Two scenes stand out in the film. Early on, Miyashita and her lover, Hideaki Esumi, are having a meal in the presence of a geisha. Miyashita is topless with Esumi eating food off her breasts. To heighten the eating/sexual experience, Miyashita says that the food would taste better if it is in contact with one's genitalia. She pushes the food at her vagina and then offers it to Esumi who consumes it with much relish. All the while, one can see the geisha getting more and more exasperated. The presence of the geisha in this early scene sets the tone that as the movie proceeds (or as the relationship between the two develops), the two lovers become more and more oblivious to their surroundings, until the two hardly leave their room.

For the finale, as in Ai No Corrida, one still cringes at the scene showing Miyashita cutting off the penis of the dead Esumi. Here, Miyashita's portrayal of extreme longing is exemplary and helps seal the scene - even if the action occurs "off screen" and one only sees the blood on her hands.

A major difference between Oshima's Corrida and Tanaka's Abe Sada is the character of Abe Sada herself. Oshima's Abe Sada (portrayed by Eiko Matsuda) appears crazed and obsessed with sex and her lover while in Tanaka's film, after a tough life (she was raped at 18 and was a sex worker for the rest of her adult life), Sada finally finds a soulmate (Sada keeps repeating the line, "a woman falls in love only once" as if it's a mantra) and, for the time being, sex is the only way for them to express their affection.

Note: The Woman Called Abe Sada DVD (Pagan) is banned in $ingapore.

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March 13, 2007

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