A woman strangles her lover, cuts off his penis and keeps the dismembered penis as a sign of affection. You want more? Nagisa Oshima's Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses) has enough nudity and f**king to sustain several movies. Stephen Tan reviews.


You know you are in for something special when right at the beginning, one maid lays down next to another and starts fondling the latter's breast, all the while hoping for a night of (lesbian) sex. Next, it's a scene of children and some maids from an inn coming across an old man who is asleep. The children move the old man's clothing to reveal his penis and they throw snowballs at it. The old man wakes up and recognises one of the maids and propositions her. Feeling sorry for the old man, the maid shows him her crotch. The old man tries to masturbate but he remains limp.

Oshima filmed Ai No Corrida (In The Realm Of The Senses, 1976), a movie about obsessive love, apparently with a small cast and crew in Japan. But he had a vision of how the film was to be presented - the nudity and sex unfettered, and in your face. To this end, he got a French producer and the film's post-production was done in France.

In A Short Introduction To Japanese Censorship, Joaquín da Silva states: "Oddly enough, the film itself was never taken to court but a book containing essays written by the director, the film script and 12 photographs accompanying the text. Even though, shot clandestinely in Japan with a crew of mainly Japanese, Ai No Corrida is considered a French production. The film stock had been imported from France and the negative had been sent to a French laboratory for its developing and editing.

"Its world premiere took place at the Director's Fortnight section of the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. On 26 September of that year it was released in commercial cinemas of Paris. Meanwhile, the book above mentioned was being published in Japan and charged with obscenity at the end of July, even before the film had been imported into Japan. During the trial, Oshima admitted that the book had only been a scapegoat for the possible indictment of the film. The distribution of the film in Japan was blocked initially by customs at international airports.

"Only after a third of the original film had been altered by the censors it was allowed to be released in Japan at the end of 1976. To this day the original version of Ai No Corrida has never been shown in cinemas or released on video or DVD in Japan. A version released in 2000 titled Ai No Corrida 2000 was shown uncut, with five minutes of footage restored that had been censored in its initial release, but still contained numerous digital bokashi or masking in many scenes."

Cover on the Madman DVD (Australia) shows the strangulation sash.

DVD cover shown on the Amazon website has the strangulation sash removed.

In spite of the numerous breast shots, shots of limp and erect penises, fellatio, the maid yanking a little boy's penis and the sex, Ai No Corrida does not come across as a film that tittilates. It is stark, it is confrontational, it is bold and, at the end, it is tragic.

Unlike the other movies - A Woman Called Abe Sada (Noboru Tanaka, 1975) or the later Sada (Obayashi Nobuhiko, 1998) - which provide more background to the maid Abe Sada, Oshima's film begins with Abe (Eiko Matsuda) starting work at the inn owned by by Kichizo Yoshida (Tatsuya Fuji). It isn't long before Abe catches womaniser Kichizo's fancy but the twist seems to be that Kichizo has truly fallen for Abe. The relationship between the two soon involves more than physical sex. To show his love for Abe, Kichizo eats a piece of mushroon which Abe had earlier brushed against her vagina. As if to up the ante, Kichizo even puts an egg up Abe's vagina which he later eats.

Physical attraction may be a start but for this couple, it is also the be-all and end-all. Based on a true 1936 incident, what caught the Japanese public's attention (apart from the sensationalistic aspects) was the utter devotion between the two. At the end, one can only describe the two lovers as soul-mates; and where love devolves into obsession.

Abe Sada may be left alone with a dismembered penis but why is it that Kichizo is willing to lay down his life for his love? On the surface, the strangulation of Kichizo by Abe is a quest for the ultimate orgasm but it can also be viewed as a quest for inner (everlasting?) peace.

Oshima stops short of passing judgement on this obsessive love but he bravely shows the various forms obsession can take, physical sex being a facet of it. In contrast to the other women in the movie whose idea of sex is a clash between something to be avoided and something akin to a forbidden fruit, Abe Sada stands out not because she totally embraces sex but because she goes all out to have it and luxuriates in it. In this sense, Oshima has made a truly modern movie.

Note: Ai No Corrida (Madman DVD) is banned in $ingapore.

For more... email singbigo@singnet.com.sg with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."

April 24, 2007

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