A Pocket Full of Clemsonite

April 28, 2009

Nagisa Oshima’s “Realm of the Senses”: An Engrossing, But Also a Grossing-Out Film


This is a piece of cinema that I long suspected it was censored in the US. “I Am Curious” comes to mind, but also the fact that it’s next to impossible to find a copy of another “art-house porn”, Lars von Trier’s “Idioterne”. Well, lately the less-important Caligula was released on DVD, as well as Pierpaolo Pasolini’s “Salo”, re-released by the Criterion Collection. Still, I managed to get a copy of “Realm of the Senses” from Amazon UK. Well, little did I know at that time that the Criterion Collection was planning to launch its own US version.

If the question is “was it worth it?”, the answer might depend. It was worth for me to see it. On the other hand, although the price is not terribly high, I can see why this film can constitute a big no-no to a lot of people. Even judging by the above list of “questionable” films, one can foresee what its problem is. Yes, it has sex galore. And, most importantly, not that kind you see in porn productions. Hence we can gradually reach the conclusion that it’s actually a film on its own, the fact that a lot of sex happens in it does not make it at all a member of the porn genre.

What do I mean by this? Merely the fact that the main point of the film is not to titillate the viewer, although, with such a subject, such side effect (as well as the opposite effect, when it comes to certain sex acts) is inevitable. The film has a coherent plot with all necessary parts, which seems to have a (relative) psychological sense, not because such “sexual infatuation stories” happen often, but because this one seems to be based on a well-documented real fact. It happened, but this does not mean we’re watching a documentary. Perhaps the event was famous in its time just because of its nature.
Well, I want this review to remain online, so I’m not trying to scare people here, or to use incensed wording. (and maybe I am still learning the skill of expressing difficult words in fashions that are “easy to swallow”). I remember that even filmmakers have such difficulties sometimes (in the same vein, there is a particularly sensitive scene in Almodovar’s “Talk to Her”, I won’t name it, for which the director has taken additional precautionary measures).

We are dealing with a prostitute, which we get to know that she is actually the wife of a teacher, who got into debt and then sent his wife to work in a brothel, to recoup the debt amount. This woman seems to have a specific tactile sensitivity, I am even amazed at how many times can she have a climax each day. We are also dealing with the brothel’s owner, who became attracted by her and thus begin an illicit sexual affair with her. I am saying illicit, because, although we are in a brothel, but because he has a devoted wife. These two start by meeting secretly, by hiding themselves from the wife, but eventually nothing else really matters, they keep doing it without control. It’s the image of this obsession spiraling out of control that I believe has a lot of power, and which warrants the fact that you’re witnessing a plausible psycho-erotic event. You can call it erotic folie a deux or otherwise.
The first things we do not quite like to watch are some variations on their sex making (some even including other, not so gracious, people), most of them seeming to come from the woman’s attachment to the man. She also has a strange obsession with knives; she is having jealousy accesses when she threatens him with it and so on. Great, so we have the gunpowder keg, we even have the fuse, all we need is a lighter.

It comes, via a visit the woman makes to her husband. Filled with guilt for the pleasures she is living with her current partner, she feels like dying, so she asks the husband to strangle her. Well, not to death, and the effect of this experience is that the temporary lack of oxygen is emphasizing her orgasmic feel. It something similar to what has been mentioned in the first season of the TV show “Murder One” (I even wonder whether the script writers have found inspiration for that from this Oshima film). Long story short, when she returns, she shares her discovery with her boss, and he enjoys it.
Actually this is when everything gets a dark turn, because the guy stops being able to enjoy the normal intercourse, and he keeps asking her to strangle him. And she keeps doing it. The guy becomes less and less interested in anything except his strange state of suffocation during sex. Actually, his potency suffers.
The final act is now easy to understand. She promises that she will proceed with her strangling even beyond the “safe zone” (now that’s beyond anything that I am comfortable with), and surely she does.

This act was so obvious to me that it will happen, that, also due to some schedule while watching it, I left out the last five minutes of it. Frankly, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with going back to watch it, anyway. But I’ll do it sometime…

All in all, I hope I was helpful to some people regarding the decision whether to invest in the Criterion version of this film. Actually, some people might even prefer the Blu-Ray clarity (I’m outta here, folks!). But I still claim that this is a good, albeit not very important (except for the moral debate it caused), film, and the cinephiles should watch it. Minors, not so much. Nor is it recommended for the people preferring family movies. I can even see the porn genre fans being somehow disappointed by this. But am not sure.

Sayonara!

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