A woman strangles her lover and keeps his dismembered penis as a momento of their love. In the third movie based on the the obsessive pair of lovers, director Obayashi Nobuhiko gives Sada an avant-garde feel but cuts down on the nudity. Stephen Tan reviews.


One would have imagined that Nagisa Oshima's 1976 movie, Ai No Corida (In The Realm Of The Senses) would have been the last word on the subject but so far there have been two other films based on the subject - Noboru Tanaka's A Woman Called Sada Abe (1975) and Obayashi Nobuhiko's Sada (1998).

Of the three movies, Nobuhiko's Sada can be considered the most chaste and genteel. Sure there is a lot of f**king going on. Given the story of a pair of sex-obsessed lovers, it would be impossible to shoot the movie without any hint of sex. Yet the film does not show any full bodied nudity. Even if actress Hitomi Kuroki (as Sada Abe) may look like she's topless, she always manages to have a jacket or a coverlet over her breasts. [Newer audiences might remember Kuroki as the besieged mother in the Japanese version of Dark Water.]

Until the last act, the film is generally light, easy-going and even comical. Unlike the serious tone of the other films, Nobuhiko mixes in colour and black-and-white shots, slow motion and high-speed photography, giving certain scenes an avant-garde feel while highlighting the comical aspects in others.


The opening black-and-white shot is a nostalgic look at Sada as a young girl and the black-and-white shot as she lay bleeding the first time she has sex are strong images. Later, as a prostitute servicing a client, the speeded-up shots do not reflect any of her feelings, rather they make light of what she does. Likewise the speeded-up catfight between Sada and restaurant mistress (Toshie Negishi) is played strictly for laughs.

Critics noted in Nobuhiko's Sada notions of repressed sexuality and the patriarchal treatment of women but with petite Hitomi Kuroki in the lead, she comes across more like a wilful child than someone who is championing a cause. Throughout most of the movie, she displays an almost laissez-faire attitude toward sex and her body - as indicated by the montage of male faces when she's servicing a client - so much so that the writers needed to insert a line where she says she finally found a sex/soul mate in inn owner Tatsuzo Kikumoto (Tsurutaro Kataoka). Otherwise how else to explain her sudden obsession with the man?

Given the rather frivolous nature of the bulk of the movie, the drama and the pathos in the last act feels jarring and forced. The intensity in the strangulation and dismemberment scenes here is nowhere compared to that shown in Noboru Tanaka's film. Contrary to popular impressions of the story, Sada was not arrested on the street. She was arrested at a hotel room and, according to this movie, she did carry the dismembered penis in her sash. On the other hand, what Nobuhiko adds is a little coda showing that while Sada was jailed for six years, she had an early release; she remarried under a different name, and even toured Japan with a production of her life story.

Nobuhiko might be commended for attempting the Abe Sada story without showing any nudity but after the films by Nagisa Oshima and Noboru Tanaka, why be coy now?

Note: The Sada (Panorama) DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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April 10, 2007

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